Chapter 1: Pandora's box
(Or, more accurately, Pandora's jar)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There's something about going to sleep to Sherlock. Waking up to Sherlock. Being the last and the first person that she sees. There’s a certain intimacy that comes with seeing Sherlock imperfect and unpolished, being able to observe all the creases in her demeanor before she smooths them out, rendering them invisible to anyone else.
She knows, despite what Sherlock says when she's being difficult, that things like this matter . Even if mornings and nights spent together don't make fondness well up in Sherlock the way it does in Wato, these moments with Sherlock are hers . Nobody else in the world knows exactly how strong Sherlock likes her coffee, how to get her to eat something when she's been holed up in her makeshift lab for hours. How to get her out of her own head when she gets that lost, desperate look in her eyes.
Wato can get it just right most of the time. Wato knows her, learns a little more of with each day that passes. In return, Sherlock knows her , even if she’ll never admit to it. She drags Wato out of the dark places inside of her. She gets Wato out of the apartment and does silly things to make her laugh.
So, secretly Wato loves these little moments. Secretly, she adores Sherlock like this: inelegant, her hair rumpled, wrapped in an expensive dressing gown like it's a shield that'll keep the world at bay.
Secretly, Wato adores Sherlock.
She remembers how easy it was to get drawn in, in the beginning. Like a moth to a flame. A lost creature desperate for light. Sherlock didn't ask her to come because Sherlock wouldn't be caught dead asking for anything but still, she came.
It's like this: Sherlock dives headfirst into dangerous situations, and Wato follows her to the ends of the earth because she's developed an appetite for danger, too, somewhere along the way. Sherlock goes too far and Wato keeps her in check. Sherlock buries herself so deep in a case that she can't see anything else, and Wato watches her blind spots. Whatever mess Sherlock sticks her nose into, no matter if Sherlock dashes ahead and Wato lags behind, they meet in the middle. They always find their way back to one another.
Wato realized early on in their relationship that Sherlock isn't cruel because she's trying to be. That it isn't just the urge to provoke people that makes her act the way she does, but the fact that most of the time, she’s too deep in her own mind to realize, or care.
And usually, when Sherlock goes into her own head like this, she's can be plain strange . Brilliant, definitely. Brutally honest and sharper than a knife because like this, Sherlock cares more about solving a mystery than anything else, and her first instinct isn't always to be gentle.
Which is alright. She's learning, little by little, and gentleness has always been Wato's strong suit. Nowadays, she carries enough for both of them.
Wato's never seen anyone so happy to uncover the gritty, horrible details of a case like putting together the final pieces of the world's most macabre puzzle. Probably because she's never made a habit of hanging around the homicide division of the Tokyo Police Force before she met Sherlock, but.
It's nice seeing Sherlock happy, even if it's because she's tracking down murderers or interrogating drug addicts. It's nice because it became apparent after a few days living with her that usually, she isn't.
Wato discovered after a week that Sherlock spends her time in between cases sitting around the apartment bored out of her mind or doing god-knows-what with possibly-lethal chemicals and little to no safety equipment. On these days, Sherlock become insufferable.
Wato also discovered that Sherlock being insufferable brings out the worst in her, and even now, she ends up rising to the bait more often than she should.
On one Tuesday after an unusually uneventful week, they almost get into a shouting match over Wato leaving the window open. It's midday, and the entirety of Tokyo has been uncomfortably humid in a way that has even Wato more restless and pent up than usual.
Sherlock gets bored of playing with chemicals and starts a fresh bout of obnoxious complaining that has Wato just about ready to stab her with her own fancy glass pipette.
She's looming over Sherlock where she leans back in her desk chair, about to tear into her, when Reimon texts about a man found dead in a room locked from the inside with no other exits. Sherlock has that manic glint in her eyes again, is already on her feet pacing around the apartment and talking to herself. The tension dissipates just as quickly as it came, and Wato is relieved.
Shibata and Reimon pick them up at their apartment in their police car, which Wato is fairly sure is in violation of some code of conduct about police vehicles, but she’s stopped being concerned about little things like that after working with Sherlock for so long. She wonders, with mild concern, when she started thinking of laws and protocol and police regulations as an inconvenience .
“Where exactly are we going?” Sherlock asks as she opens the car door. She guides Wato in first with a hand at the crook of her elbow before maneuvering her long legs into the tiny gap between the backseat and passenger seat.
“The Tokyo National Museum,” Shibata replies from the passenger seat. He’s fully aware of Sherlock’s leg situation, if the shit-eating grin on his face is anything to go by, and makes a point of not moving his seat forward. Sherlock kicks the back of it pointedly, as well as she can with what little legroom she has. Shibata’s grin only widens.
Reimon starts the car and backs out of the tight parking space, just barely avoiding the sidewalk. “One of the museum’s resident archaeologists was murdered,” he says, eyes fixed on the road ahead as they pull into a wider street, towards the heart of Tokyo. “Shibata, tell them.”
Shibata straightens, expression going serious as he opens the report. “Dr. Takeuchi’s body was found in the artifact restoration wing -- one of the underground floors of the museum,” he says. “The body was discovered about an hour ago, but the estimated time of death is between 10 and 11 AM. No signs of a struggle, no obvious cause of death.”
“Why did they assume that it was a murder?” Sherlock asks.
“Last week, the museum received an artifact from Europe. While it was being transported from the airport to the museum, there was an attempted robbery.” Reimon says. “We suspect that it was an organization called the Black Circle -- a group of criminals that profits off of stolen artwork and relics. They own four bars, which they use as a cover for their base of operations. All of them are in Tokyo, or nearby.”
Sherlock snorts. “That’s idiotic. Why would anyone form a crime organization around robbing museums? Needlessly difficult and ultimately pointless.”
Reimon hums. “That’s what most would think, but they seem to have made hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of dollars, according to some reports.”
“Law enforcement must be even more incompetent than I thought, then.” Sherlock muses.
Reimon laughs, thankfully. Wato is continuously baffled and relieved whenever Sherlock says something insulting and Reimon seems more amused than offended. “An alleged member of the Black Circle, Touma Irihata, was spotted in the museum this morning. His visit coincided with the victim’s time of death, and he was spotted near the entrance to the underground wing.”
“But the artifact wasn’t stolen?” Sherlock asks.
“No, it was still in the room when Dr. Takeuchi’s body was discovered. Locked from the inside --”
“-- No other exits.” Sherlock finishes, thoughtful. “Hmm.”
The museum director is waiting for them at the entrance when they arrive. He’s grey-haired and showing signs of age, but he stands straight and tall as he meets them. Reimon introduces himself and Shibata, and then her and Sherlock as consultants for the case.
“Dr. Takeuchi is -- was -- the head of our restoration program, and an old friend of mine,” the director tells them. “He was a brilliant man, well-loved by his team.”
“We’re sorry for your loss,” Wato says, sympathetic. She’s lost a few people to unexplainable phenomena recently, too.
The director purses his lips in a tight smile and nods at her, once. “His death was -- a shock, to say the least. Especially because it happened on museum grounds. I never foresaw anything like this happening. Before last week, we’ve never even had anyone attempt to steal anything from us.”
“Sir, can you tell us anything about what happened?” Shibata asks, poised to take notes.
“Of course,” the director says. “I’ve forgotten my manners, I apologize. Let me take you all to my office.”
He leads them through a series of corridors, through a few of the exhibits. They’d be beautiful, Wato thinks, under different circumstances. Now, with most of the display lights turned off and the vast rooms devoid of people, it looks eerie and strange, almost abandoned. The shadows stretch out long and harsh across the floor, bathing large statues and display cases half in darkness.
They turn into a narrow hallway, lit with fluorescent lights, a stark contrast to the rest of the museum. The director ushers them through a large wooden door into a smaller room.
A large wooden desk strewn with paperwork takes up most of the space, along with a bookshelf crammed full. The director sits, and gestures to the two cushioned chairs across from him.
“Please, have a seat,” he says.
Reimon sits, while Sherlock wanders over to the bookshelf, inspecting the titles. Wato keeps standing, content to let Shibata take the other chair until he nudges her towards it pointedly, giving her a look. Wato sits.
“You’ve already heard about the attempted robbery last week, I assume?” the director says.
Reimon nods. “We received a report on the incident a few days ago.”
The director sighs, weary. He clasps his hands atop the table, pushing a few files out of the way. “We tightened security around the museum after that, of course. Our guards didn’t recognize the man affiliated with the Black Circle until we played back the security footage and by then, it was too late. They lost him in the crowds when we closed the museum.”
“How did you find the body?” Sherlock asks without looking away from the bookshelf.
The director winces. “Our researchers found him in one of the workrooms in the restoration wing at around noon,” he says. “He’d been working on an artifact for several hours, which isn’t anything unusual. They tried to check on him this morning, but the room was locked and he didn’t respond -- also not so unusual for him, since he didn’t like to be disturbed while he worked. But after a few more hours, the other researchers grew concerned and asked me for the key to the room. That was when they found him, collapsed. We closed down the museum and called the police right away.”
“Collapsed?” Sherlock says, turning her head to face the director.
He nods. “There was no blood, no wounds. No sign of any kind of disturbance. Of course, we aren’t professionals, but a few of our researchers have experience in the medical field. They didn’t touch anything after checking his vitals, but they said that at first glance, there was nothing visibly wrong. No obvious cause.”
“He was restoring the artifact that was nearly stolen.” Sherlock doesn’t phrase it as a question.
“Ah -- yes,” the director says. “It’s in the room, still, we thought it might be important that we leave it.” He pauses. “It was a pithos, an ancient Greek vessel, shipped in for our archaeological exhibit.”
“A pithos?” Sherlock says, interest piqued. She abandons the bookshelf in favor of standing in front of the director’s desk, her palms resting on the back of Wato’s chair as she leans forward. “Like in the story of Pandora’s Box. How fitting.”
She sounds so amused at her own little joke about the death of the museum director’s friend that Wato just barely restrains herself from elbowing her. She settles for a pointed look, which Sherlock, of course, ignores.
The director coughs. “Actually,” he says. “Our restoration team discovered an inscription in the base of the pithos. It seems to be a curse, calling on the gods of the underworld to unleash a terrible punishment on anyone who opens the artifact.”
“A cursed pithos,” Sherlock says, voice dripping with incredulous glee. She sounds like she might start laughing any second, so Wato really does elbow her in the ribs this time, discreetly. Sherlock glares at her before turning her attention back to the director. “Please, tell me more about this cursed pithos. Takeuchi opened it, I assume? What was inside?”
“Nothing,” the director says. “The inside showed signs of damage from moisture and improper handling by previous owners, but besides that...”
“It was empty.” Sherlock finishes, steepling her fingers. “How interesting.”
One of Dr. Takeuchi’s assistants shows them to the crime scene. She’s young, with short black hair and red-rimmed eyes. She leads them to a door hidden off to the side of the museum, nearly invisible to anyone who isn’t looking for it. She takes a key card out of her pocket and holds it up to a scanner next to the door. A small light flashes green, and the door unlocks with a click. The assistant holds it open for her and Sherlock, revealing a stairwell, and guides them down into the restoration center.
“It’s so dark down here,” Wato whispers to Sherlock as they descend deeper into the restoration center.
The assistant hears. “Ah, sorry about that,” she says with a sheepish smile. “We use low lighting on this floor to avoid damaging anything that comes in. You get used to it after a while.”
“Who has access to these floors?” Sherlock asks.
The assistant purses her lips, eyes narrowing in thought. “Right now… only the restoration team. Other staff come down here sometimes to move things around, but our last delivery was five days ago and nobody but the team has been down here today,” she says. “The only ways to get to these floors are the staff elevator and the door we came through, but you need a key card to use those.”
“Is it possible that somebody stole a key card? Or that someone with a key card let an outsider in?”
“I suppose so, but we have security cameras in the hallways, and our records show that nobody came in or out during the… the estimated time of death.” Her voice breaks a little towards the end of the sentence.
Sherlock turns to look at the assistant, gaze piercing. “You were the one that found the body, weren’t you?”
She visibly flinches.
“Sherlock!” Wato hisses.
“It’s alright,” the assistant says with a wry smile. “This is a murder investigation, after all. I should’ve known that the director told you.” The director hadn’t said a thing, but Wato knows better than to tell her that. The assistant takes a deep breath. “I don’t understand much about what happened, but I’ll answer your questions as well as I can.”
They keep walking, silent for a moment. “Takeuchi was your mentor?” Sherlock asks.
The assistant nods. “Most of the team has been working under him for about a year now. He’s -- he was a great man. An amazing teacher, and so dedicated to his work. I can’t imagine that anyone would want to... to hurt him.”
“How long was he in the room before he died?”
“Nearly eighteen hours, I think,” the assistant says. “The attempted robbery… well, it put everyone on edge, but him especially. He wanted to work on the pithos as soon as possible, before anything else could happen to it, and, well… He ended up staying here overnight.” The assistant laughs humorlessly. “It’s against our policies, of course, but he’s been working here for ages, so everyone usually lets it slide when he does things like this.” She exhales shakily. “That’s how he was. Stubborn. Once he decided on something, we couldn’t convince him to do anything else.”
The assistant stops in front of a door marked 203, identical to the others that line the hallway. “Here we are. This is the room where Dr. Takeuchi died.”
The room is rather small, and dim. It has a low ceiling with hanging yellow lights and, just like Reimon said, --
“No exits,” Sherlock murmurs.
There are three work tables arranged to form a U, each strewn with tools and documents. In the middle of the center table sits what Wato assumes is the pithos -- a tall, curved ceramic vessel almost like a vase, with a handle on each side. Its lid rests on the table next to it, surrounded by a ring of chipped sealant, painstakingly removed little by little.
“The pithos is nearly 3,000 years old,” the assistant says. “It was passed around by lots of collectors and smaller museums that didn’t know its worth and couldn’t maintain it properly. It’s a miracle that it’s survived this long, really.”
“And the curse?” Sherlock says.
“It’s all superstition, you understand, but… One of the previous owners -- a rich man from France named Lucien Mercier -- decided to open the pithos at an event he was hosting in is home -- as a sort of party trick, you know. To show that he wasn’t scared of the curse. The thing is, he died the day after, and within the week, most of his guests fell ill. This was in 1803 so the documentation of the event is spotty at best, and probably blown out of proportion too, but,” The assistant laughs nervously. “Since then, the pithos has been sealed with several layers of plaster. To our knowledge, Dr. Takeuchi is the first to open it in over 200 years.”
In the middle of the U, surrounded by police tape and plastic, is the body of Dr. Takeuchi. The first thing Wato notices is his face. His eyes are wide and his mouth is frozen open as if he’d died screaming, or gasping for air.
Shibata and Reimon are already there, standing a few feet away from the body. They nod in acknowledgement as Sherlock and Wato enter.
Sherlock circles the room, inspecting the tables as she goes around. She stops at a small vent on the wall, next to a complicated control board. “What’s this?”
“Each room on this floor has its own air conditioning unit,” the assistant answers. “The ventilation system on this floor is separate from the one in the actual museum. It’s designed so that we can control temperature, humidity-- things like that, to avoid damaging anything.”
“These vents connect all the rooms on this floor?”
“Most of them, yes.”
“Can one room’s ventilation unit be isolated from the rest?”
“I’m… not sure,” the assistant says, frowning.
Sherlock turns to Wato. “Take a look at Takeuchi.”
Wato pulls on a pair of surgical gloves and starts a surface examination. Like Reimon said, it doesn’t seem like there’s an obvious cause of death. The slight bluish tint in his fingernails and open mouth suggest suffocation, but there are no obstructions in his mouth or throat when Wato checks. Some sort of gas, maybe. That’s probably what Sherlock is thinking.
“The body needs to be examined properly,” Wato tells Reimon as she peels the surgical gloves off. “It’s impossible to say for sure what happened without a real autopsy.”
Reimon nods. “I’ll call someone in,” he says, before leaving the room.
"Weird case, isn't it?" Shibata says. "Even for her."
Wato hums. "Definitely not the weirdest."
“That’s true,” Shibata says. “She’s like a magnet for trouble. I swear, things like this didn’t happen around here until she started working with the police.”
“Wato,” Sherlock calls from where she’s examining the pithos.
Wato goes to her. "What do you think?" she asks.
"A poisoned gas through the vents. That’s the obvious conclusion."
"It doesn’t make sense. No motive. The pithos wasn’t stolen."
"Maybe Irihata was angry that the robbery failed?” Wato says. “Or maybe the murder is a distraction. They might still want the pithos, or they might be planning to steal something else."
Sherlock hums. “Maybe,” she says, in the voice that Wato knows means she hadn’t actually heard a thing Wato said.
Shibata approaches them. “Any leads?”
“Run a test for poison on Takeuchi. The vents, the tools, the pithos -- anything he came in contact with while he was down here.”
Shibata frowns. “The pithos? There’s no way we’ll get clearance to test on that. How would someone poison the damn thing, anyway?”
Sherlock raises an eyebrow. “I didn’t realize you were the detective. Get it done. Or don’t you want to solve the murder?”
“To solve the murder, yes. To get stuck with a mountain of unnecessary paperwork, no.” Shibata says. “Isn’t testing the body enough? Why do you have to be so difficult all the time?”
“I’m being thorough . But of course, you wouldn’t know anything about that.”
“No, of course not. You’re the only one with a brain around here, after all.” Shibata rolls his eyes, not without amusement. “Fine. I know someone from forensics. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Finally, he does something useful!” Sherlock says, fighting to hide a smile.
Wato watches them bicker with a sort of fascination. Over the past year, they’ve gotten so much practice that the banter is practically second nature. They don’t let up even when most of Shibata’s attention is focused on sending a message to his contact on his phone and Sherlock goes back to poking around in Takeuchi’s possibly-poisoned workspace without gloves.
Wato has a theory that nearly every person that spends at least a day with Sherlock ends up caring for her deeply. It’s just that most people can’t stand to spend even that much time with her.
It had been a surprise when she’d realized just how loved Sherlock is. Not by many, definitely, but the few people she’d let close to her seemed to love her with a ferocity.
Then she’d wondered why she was surprised at all, because even when she hadn’t been able to stand Sherlock, she’d been taken with her from day one.
Sherlock is a difficult person to love. That’s what Wato had thought at first. She’d been surprised by how Sherlock’s brother seemed genuinely fond of her, how Mrs. Hatano wasn’t bothered by how Sherlock’s didn’t seem to care at all. She’d wondered at how people could love her so easily, so freely despite all of it. How they could find something to love in someone like Sherlock.
Then, she’d realized that she’d gotten it wrong. There is no secret, hidden part of Sherlock that inspires enough love that people can overlook the rest of her. People don’t love Sherlock despite anything, but because of who she is. Because she’s sometimes cold, sometimes cruel in her honesty; because she sticks her nose where it didn’t belong and almost gets herself arrested on a weekly basis; because she’s just a person, too, someone who makes mistakes and is blind to some things, who gets hurt and scared and angry and upset but is always deeply, unfailingly good when it matters. Because of how she cares: in different, less conventional ways, but with the same ferocity. Not despite any part of Sherlock, but because those who love her see her in her entirety.
That’s why it’s frustrating when Wato finds that she can’t adequately explain this thing she has with Sherlock to anyone who doesn’t know her. It’s endlessly frustrating, now that she sees Sherlock and knows her for exactly what she is, that most people aren’t able to see her the same way. Wato understands, because there had been a time when she hadn’t loved Sherlock either. But now.
Sherlock still makes batches of cucumber toner for Wato, though she's dropped the pretense of accidentally making too much every single week and stopped using Mrs. Hatano as a middleman, for which Wato is glad. Recently, she's taken to leaving small jars of the toner around the apartment for Wato to find in increasingly unlikely places. The latest one had been inside one of Wato’s boots, and she’d shrieked when her toe touched the cold metal of the jar’s lid.
She isn't sure how Sherlock knew about the scars in the first place. To her knowledge, Sherlock's never actually seen them. Wato hasn’t changed in front of anyone else since she got home, and she certainly hasn’t worn anything that exposes her back since the explosion that nearly tore her shoulder apart. Maybe it had just been obvious to Sherlock, in the same way it was obvious that Wato was fresh from a battlefield, that she was hiding scars beneath her clothing.
For a while, the sight of the stitches in her shoulder had made Wato sick to her stomach. It was ridiculous, because she’s worked in a war zone where she treated people, one after the other, who were bleeding out from bullet wounds and scared out of their minds.
On bad days, there had been limbs blown clean off and bodies peppered with shrapnel. She'd kept her hands steady as she could while tying what felt like the millionth tourniquet, performing CPR on another child, mother, father, feeling ribs crack beneath her palms, feeling her hands start to shake until it was useless , all of it, the years she'd slaved over medical textbooks and exams and how much of her heart and soul she'd poured into this if she couldn't do this one fucking thing-
The point is, she's seen worse, much worse, so there's no reason for the scar to be something she actively avoids looking at in the mirror every morning.
It's not even that bad. The wound had bled heavily, but nothing important was hit and on a battlefield, that was mild. Commonplace among the hundreds of refugees she’s treated; Wato’s seen enough scar tissue in her life to know that. She also knows that if it were anyone else, she’d never be repulsed or judgemental about a scar, no matter how it looked, but on herself --
One day, she'd tried to make it all disappear. She'd passed by the convenience store on her way home and bought a concealer that promised to hide any blemish. She'd made sure that Sherlock was too deep in her work to notice if Wato stepped into the bathroom for a little too long.
There, she’d stood with her back to the mirror, looking over her shoulder, and applied the concealer with her fingers. It had blended out around the edges, making the wounded area look smaller, less jarring and red. But the scar still made itself known. The puckered skin and jagged edges refused to disappear, no matter what she did.
So she'd wiped the concealer away and put her shirt back on and made a point of not looking at the scars for the rest of the day.
The thing about the whole toner business is that it forces Wato to actually look at them, to touch them. Every day, she applies a generous amount and tries not to flinch at the feel of the leathery skin beneath her fingertips. The lack of sensation in the scarred area is strange and foreign to her when she does it the first few times, and she almost flinches away from it. She startles at the sensitivity of the skin surrounding the scars.
At first, she doesn't think it's changed a thing, but after a week, she thinks it might be a little less mottled around the edges. Still present but... a little less scary to look at.
After the first few times, when the novelty has worn off, she starts to get curious. Ex surgeon or not, her fascination with the human body hasn’t disappeared. She finds herself pressing her fingers into the scar, getting familiar with it. If she presses hard enough, she can feel the pressure of it. Not in the scar tissue, which is still numb, mostly, interspersed with little pinpricks of pain, but inside of her. In muscle and bone. It’s kind of fascinating.
This is how the scar becomes a part of her: in these little, meaningless moments. It hadn’t been before, she thinks, but it is now. In the minutes she spends ghosting over the skin, mapping it until it feels like her own, she makes peace with it and finds that it’s not as hard as she thought it would be, accepting these little changes.
It’s a similar process, coming to terms with everything else, little by little. She knows, deep inside of her, that she’s changed on a fundamental level, that she'll never be the person she used to be. She came back with the scars to prove it. There's no way back and maybe, she shouldn’t want to go back. Even if it feels like the world has left her behind sometimes, like she'll never catch up, she keeps moving. She finds purpose, even when just living feels impossible.
Someday, maybe, she'll stop being scared of leaving things behind. She won’t be afraid that Wato at sixteen, idealistic and desperate to make a difference in the world, might have died somewhere back in Syria. Someday, she might actually get past this. She might end up braver than she’s ever been. But for now, in their little apartment in Tokyo, she works on her scars.
They end up in the bar in Shinjuku, one of the four that the Black Circle allegedly owns. It turns out to be a dud -- Irihata is nowhere to be found, and no one else in the bar seems to know anything. It might not be connected to the Black Circle at all for all they get out of it.
Once it’s clear that questioning anyone else is a fruitless endeavor and nobody seems to be planning to attack them, they both sort of slump onto the bar, exhausted. They'd usually have left by now, but it's late and the bar is pretty nice, admittedly, so Wato thinks might as well and orders them drinks. Sherlock gets one with a long, intimidating name in a foreign language and an even more intimidating price, while Wato orders a beer for herself. Sherlock inexplicably ends up stealing three quarters of Wato's drink and ignoring her own. Wato doesn't put up much of a fight.
The tiny spotlights illuminating the bar are tinted red and blue, making everything look dreamy and surreal. Sherlock looks a little otherworldly, painted in color, almost like a portrait. If she were an artist, Wato would probably spend a lot of time painting Sherlock.
She’s beautiful: that's the objective truth. She may not be soft or feminine in the way that most people associate with beauty, but the way that the contours of her face look bathed in light and shadow is striking in a way that demands it be captured in brush strokes, carved into marble.
She’s devastating, really. Wato doesn’t know what to do with it sometimes.
Between her and Sherlock, there's not much of her drink left. She downs the last of it in one go, her lips touching the faint imprint Sherlock’s lipstick had left on the rim of the glass, and notices her staring.
"What?" Wato says.
"Nothing," Sherlock murmurs, an odd little smile on her face. It makes Wato's chest ache a little.
Getting a tipsy Sherlock home turns out to be more of a challenge than expected. She's glad that she hadn't actually gotten to drink most of her beer, because then they'd probably never get back to their apartment in one piece.
Tipsy Sherlock is smiley and endlessly fascinated by everything: the glowing neon sign of an ice cream shop, a woman's dog, a pond full of frogs, an alley cat. She leans in close to Wato, flushed and happy, and dances away again seconds later, distracted by something new.
Wato sighs with relief when she finally closes the door behind them when they get to their apartment. Sherlock has already abandoned her coat somewhere on the floor of their living room by the time Wato makes it inside. She stands in front of the couch, squinting down at her phone.
"Did something happen?" Wato asks as she bends down to pick up Sherlock's coat. She folds in its sleeves and hangs it on one of the arms of their couch.
"Shibata," Sherlock mutters. "Doesn't matter."
“Shibata texts you?”
Sherlock ignores her. She tosses the phone onto the table, where it manages to avoid skidding off and onto the floor by a narrow margin, and collapses onto the couch cushions, groaning. She kicks off her shoes and pulls her legs up onto the couch, leaning her head back and closing her eyes.
Wato lets herself stare for a moment before she turns and goes to their bathroom. She washes her face, squinting at her eye bags, which might be starting to get worse if she’s not imagining it, and brushes her teeth. She applies a fresh coating of Sherlock’s toner to her scars, the motions mostly soothing and routine now. She finds an old t-shirt and a pair of pajama pants to change into.
When she comes back to the living room, Sherlock is well and truly asleep on the couch, a little more spread out than when she'd left. Wato turns off the lights and pads across the floor, barefoot, as quietly as she can. She leaves the window open, because Sherlock isn’t awake enough to protest, and the room is filled with moonlight, everything pale and softened.
Sherlock’s skin seems to glow faintly. Like this, even half-drunk and disheveled, she looks almost unreal. Ethereal.
"Hey," Wato whispers. Sherlock stirs, and buries her face deeper into the cushions. "Wake up.”
“I need to sleep here, you know. And there's not much space as it is, even without you hogging half of it."
Sherlock mumbles something into the fabric of the couch.
“I can’t hear you,” Wato says, amused and exasperated as she crouches in front of Sherlock.
Sherlock lifts her head a few inches off of the cushions and mutters, “Sleep on my bed, then. I’m not moving.” Then, she plants her face firmly into the couch cushions with finality.
Wato can’t help but smile a little, fond despite herself.
“Well, I’m not moving either.” Wato says. She sits on the unoccupied side of the couch, and pulls her legs up onto the cushions. It’s a tight squeeze; the couch wasn’t built to hold even one sleeping adult even in the best of times.
She kicks Sherlock gently, who looks up, disgruntled. She narrows her eyes at Wato. Wato raises an eyebrow, defiant, and nudges her again with her foot. Sherlock sprawls out a little more just to be irritating, taking up more of Wato’s already meager space, and nudges Wato’s shin with her leg pointedly. Wato sighs and tosses a pillow at her. If both of them are staying, they might as well get comfortable.
Wato can hardly fit her legs onto the couch without curling into a foetal position, so she ends up with her left leg hanging off the edge and the right one bent at the knee, her shin pressed against Sherlock’s back where she’s curled herself into a ball over the armrest.
Wato maneuvers most of her blanket out from under them, throws it over them both, covering as much as she can. She leans against the armrest, the one with Sherlock’s coat still hanging off of it, closes her eyes, and calls it a night.
In the morning, Wato wakes to Sherlock delivering a particularly painful kick to Wato’s ribs in her sleep. It’s horrible how she can’t find it in herself to be all that annoyed.
Wato's life after Dr. Mizuno’s death was worlds away from anything she'd imagined her homecoming would be like. Sometimes, she looks around their apartment littered with Sherlock's abandoned science experiments, the remnants of long-finished cases, and expensive clothing spattered with far too much blood for her liking, and wonders how the hell she got here.
Between her numerous short-lived part time jobs and the full-time job of running around Tokyo trying to prevent Sherlock from getting herself killed, there's hardly a quiet moment for Wato. Which is good, she supposes, because on some days it feels like she'll collapse in on herself without the constant stream of activity to keep her on her feet.
On other days, though, the in-betweens that she gets are a precious and treasured thing. She takes the time to let herself fall apart a little and to put herself back together, slowly. She spends time with friends because if all of this has taught her anything, it's to keep the few remaining people in her life close to her heart. She grieves, because for all that she's gained, she's also lost so much.
Because sometimes, she still feels hopelessly, hopelessly alone. Because a homecoming is hardly a homecoming without a home to return to. Because for a long time, those nineteen letters from her mentor had been a lifeline in a sunken place. Those letters had been her ticket back home, had kept safety and comfort from feeling like little more than a dream.
And it had been, she supposes. The relief of coming home, of maybe putting all the fear and desperation and grief behind her, had lasted the length of the ten-hour flight before shriveling in her chest and dying as the world seemed to crumble beneath her feet yet again. Too good to be true.
Sometimes, it feels like she never came home after all. Sometimes, it feels like more of her is in Syria than in their apartment in Tokyo. Most of the time, though, she just feels stuck. Like her life now is as much of a distant dream as it had been in Syria.
Please tell me if you spot any grammatical/typographical mistakes!
Comments are greatly appreciated. I'd love to hear anything you have to say!
Chapter 2: A bonsai
Hi hello sorry for the delay! I've been really sleep deprived these past few days, which really isn't conducive to editing.
School is hard.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Wato wakes up for the second time that morning, groggy and with Sherlock’s foot still digging into her ribs, to Sherlock’s phone attempting to vibrate its way off of the coffee table. She fumbles blindly for a few seconds before handing it to an equally groggy Sherlock.
“Shibata,” she says as she answers the call, voice muzzy with sleep. “I will eviscerate you for calling me at --” She squints at the time on her phone. “-- 7:03 in the morning.”
Shibata says several things very quickly, and Sherlock’s eyebrows seem to rise higher and higher as the call goes on.
She laughs like Shibata’s just told the funniest joke she’s ever heard and says, “You’ve got to be kidding,” before hanging up and dropping her phone into the couch cushions.
“What was that about?” Wato asks, rubbing her face with her hands.
“Apparently, half of the Tokyo National Museum’s restoration staff has fallen mysteriously ill!” Sherlock says with false cheer. At least, Wato hopes it’s false.
“Seriously?” Wato says, scrubbing her eyes harder. It’s far too early for this.
“The curse is real after all, it seems,” Sherlock muses. “That means we’re out of a job. And we can go back to sleep.”
Wato considers this for a moment.
“Don’t kick me again,” she mutters as she sinks back into the couch and closes her eyes.
Wato’s latest and longest-standing job is at an art studio not too far from their apartment. She works Wednesdays and Thursdays, sometimes Fridays, as an assistant in beginners’ painting classes. It has decent hours and good pay, and her boss is surprisingly understanding, if nonplussed, when she gets an urgent phone call every other week and has to leave early.
One of her old coworkers from the library recommended the place when Wato left, and she’d forgotten about it for a while until she decided she’d rather die than spend another day working in retail. It had been a shot in the dark, she’d thought, with her nonexistent artistic experience, so it had been a pleasant surprise when she was hired. Then, she’d realized that “assistant” mostly means lugging easels and canvases around and organizing paint brushes, which is fine by her, actually. By the end of the first few sessions, she’d learned how to draw a decent figure, too.
Her coworkers are nice, if a little eccentric, but Wato’s pretty sure she counts as eccentric now, too, if only by proximity to so many odd people, so they mesh rather well.
Hana is friendly, albeit a little airy. Every time Wato sees her, her hair seems to be dyed a different color which, coupled with the loose, flowy clothes she usually wears, makes her seem a little like a forest nymph or a fairytale character. Wato usually fills in for her on Fridays, whenever she skips out in favor of band practice, which she could be annoyed about if she chose to ignore the half-dozen times she’s stepped out in favor of some case or another. (Her boss must be an actual angel, letting Wato get away with all of it. That, or severely short on staff.)
Then there’s Itsuki, a soft-spoken boy from Gifu and Wato’s personal favorite. He came to Tokyo to work at some accounting firm but, to his parents’ displeasure, he’d decided that his passion for art outweighed any fondness he had for numbers. Which is kind of a shame, since Wato’s seen him multiply five-digit numbers in his head in seconds, the few times their boss had asked for help with accounting, but. Parents. Wato gets it.
And he is a good artist. Her boss seems seconds away from adopting him herself, every time he comes in to work bearing one of his paintings, sheepish and self-conscious as he asks her for a critique of his work.
He turns out to be delightfully talkative after she gets to know him better, after he builds up a little confidence. They bond instantly over their roommate woes, though he seems to have gone through a string of the most eccentric people in Tokyo while Wato’s been stuck with the same weirdo for nearly two years, for some indiscernible reason.
Her boss, Mrs. Watanabe, is a petite middle-aged woman who possesses the uncanny ability to move twice the number of easels Wato can in half the time, but makes Wato do it for her all the same. She’s sweet and motherly but also wickedly intelligent in a way that reminds her, oddly, of Sherlock. There’s a certain knowing warmth in her gaze that makes Wato feel like she’s being taken care of.
It’s good, definitely one of the best jobs Wato’s had. Sometimes, she’ll try to sketch along with the class while Mrs. Watanabe talks about line weight and contour drawing and other things beyond her ken.
After the class is over, while they clean paint and graphite off of easels, she’ll while away the time talking about whatever piece Itsuki’s working on, or Hana’s latest stint as an amateur drummer, and it’s nice. It’s nice, having friends again.
A couple times, Wato’s practice sketches begin to clumsily take the shape of a familiar cheekbone or short, dark hair that falls into soft waves, and that’s okay too, she supposes.
"No traces of poison in the vents or the body,” Sherlock says. “The museum had their own scientists examine the pithos; nothing but dirt. And damage from water and fungal growth, since the stupid thing is made of old clay.”
“What about the autopsy?” Wato asks.
“Cause of death: acute respiratory failure due to pulmonary hemorrhage.”
Wato pauses for a moment to think about it. “Well,” she says. “Just because it wasn’t poison, doesn’t mean it wasn’t something he inhaled. His team got sick, too, right? Something must have spread through the vents.”
“They tested for drugs, cocaine, pesticides -- anything that could’ve caused the hemorrhage. Nothing. He didn’t have any autoimmune disorders and wasn’t on any medication. None of them can distinguish the cause. The pathologist said she’s never seen anything like it before.” Sherlock says before plopping down onto the couch next to Wato in a frustrated heap. “They have one job, why can’t they do it right ?”
Wato mulls it over. “They said the last person who opened the pithos died too, right?” she says. “How?”
“Lucien Mercier? He was run over by his own carriage. Completely unrelated, it’s just that everyone who documented the incident was a superstitious idiot ,” Sherlock says. “Nobody would curse a pithos, anyway. Its primary function is to store grains and water. It’s like cursing a pot, or a pitcher.”
Something dawns on Wato. “They said the pithos has been sealed since 1803, right? Until Dr. Takeuchi opened it?”
Sherlock makes an affirmative noise.
“Maybe the pithos isn’t the point. Maybe there was something important hidden inside it, and that’s what the Black Circle wanted.”
Sherlock sits up and stares at her for a moment, then a slow smile crosses her face. “Something inside it,” she repeats, thoughtful.
Wato beams. “See? I have good ideas too, sometimes.”
Sherlock cups Wato’s face between her hands, her palms warm and soft against Wato’s cheeks. “You do,” she says, eyes bright as she grins at Wato. Then, she leaves the room in a flurry of limbs and trenchcoat.
The whole thing nearly sends Wato into cardiac arrest.
(Wato wishes, sometimes, that she could see through Sherlock's eyes. She wishes that the world would unfold itself to her the way it does for Sherlock, the hidden pieces connecting easily, naturally under her gaze.
Did the world simplify itself through Sherlock's eyes, or was it just all the more twisted, muddled?
Wato thinks about Sherlock's perpetual cynicism, the terribly bleak way she seemed to perceive everything. She thinks about Sherlock and her vast supply of obscure knowledge, her almost-omniscience, only for her to be struck blind at the most crucial moments.
She thinks, maybe neither of them can see clearly at all.)
On Thursday, Wato walks through the doors of the art studio, twenty minutes before the class is due to start, only to be met face to face with a monstrosity of a plant.
The monstrosity, she realizes, is actually a tiny tree in a red plant pot, cradled in the arms of her even tinier boss.
“Ah, Wato!” Mrs. Watanabe beams through its miniature branches. “Just who I was looking for! Would you mind setting this up on the center table? I think we’ll do studies of it for today for the 4 PM class.”
“Sure,” Wato says, nonplussed, and is rewarded with an armful of tree. She dutifully brings it to the raised table at the front of the room where the model of the week usually sits, making a point of not letting her arms shake with the effort. If Mrs. Watanabe carried the million-pound plant pot like it weighed nothing at all, then Wato can, too, damn it.
“It’s a Juniper bonsai,” Mrs. Watanabe explains once the tree is situated to her satisfaction. “My sister gave it to me for my birthday because it symbolizes fertility or harmony, or something like that.”
“That’s thoughtful,” Wato says. “Like a blessing.”
Mrs. Watanabe snorts. “I think she was just hoping for another niece. Besides, it’s more of a curse than a blessing. I was sort of hoping to get rid of it today.” She laughs. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, though. You need to check on the ratio of water to soil constantly , and put it out in the sun for exactly four hours a day or it’ll shrivel up and die, just like that. I swear, raising a child was less demanding.”
“Huh,” Wato says. She can think of exactly one person with too much time on her hands who might be fascinated with the challenge of taking care of a tedious, difficult plant.
Mrs. Watanabe is more than happy to let Wato take the bonsai off her hands, which is thrilling until Wato realizes that she actually has to carry it with her on the walk back to the apartment. The logistics of someone her size carrying both the bonsai, which is nearly half her height, and her bag while navigating the streets of Tokyo without accidentally injuring anyone and/or the tree seem more and more improbable by the second as she stumbles her way out the doors to the studio, nearly tripping over her own feet going down the steps.
Itsuki, being the angel that he is, offers to help her carry it home despite being just barely taller than Wato and even skinnier. Still, they manage it in the end, taking turns holding it while the other navigates. People give them a fairly wide berth on the sidewalk.
“What on earth is that?” Sherlock asks when Wato and Itsuki step into the apartment, bonsai in tow.
“A bonsai,” Wato says, gently placing it in the middle of their coffee table. It looks kind of nice there, next to Sherlock’s ever-growing pile of old case files.
“I can see that,” Sherlock says, eyeing it doubtfully. “ Juniperus rigida. What’s it doing in our apartment?”
“I brought it here,” Wato says. “I’ve decided that you need a project.”
Sherlock’s eyes shift from the bonsai to Wato, dubious. “I have a project. It involves the inexplicable death of an archaeologist.”
Itsuki’s eyebrows shoot upwards. He turns to look at Wato, questioning. Wato ignores him.
“And that is why you need a project,” she says to Sherlock. “Anyway. Itsuki, this is Sherlock, my roommate. Sherlock, Itsuki.”
“Hi,” Itsuki says with a small wave. Sherlock eyes him dubiously, too, then turns her attention back to the miniature lab she’s set up on their dining table.
“Is that poison?” Wato asks. “I told you not to do experiments with poison in our kitchen.”
“It’s trimellitic anhydride in low concentration. It won’t kill anyone. Much.” Sherlock says. “And you said not to do experiments with poison on the kitchen counter . Hence the table.”
Wato sighs, long suffering. To Itsuki, she says, “I’m sorry, I’ve been rude. Do you want a drink? Water? Anything?”
“No, it’s okay,” Itsuki says, a little wide-eyed.
“I’ll walk you out, then, if you need to go.”
Itsuki nods, still staring at Sherlock.
When they’re outside the apartment, Wato says, “Sorry about that. Sherlock’s usually nicer nowadays. Or, well. More polite, at least.”
Itsuki grins. “I thought my roommates were weird, but she definitely takes the cake,” he says. “What was she doing with poison, anyway? Is she an assassin, or something? Is she a spy? ”
“What? No! Of course not! She -- well, it’s kind of hard to explain.”
“A spy,” Itsuki says, grinning wider. “I wish my life was that exciting.”
Wato doesn’t think she’d call the last time they’d staked out that bar for hours waiting for someone who never even showed up exciting, necessarily. Then she wonders what that says about her , that things like that have become commonplace in her life.
Itsuki scuffs his sneaker on the sidewalk. “Well. I guess I’d better get going soon,” he says.
“Sorry, am I keeping you?” Wato asks, suddenly conscious of all the time Itsuki’s spent lugging around her bonsai. “Thank you so much, by the way.”
“It’s fine,” he says, waving her away. “I probably needed the exercise anyway. Oh, actually, I was wondering if you wanted to have dinner together sometime.” Itsuki’s mouth curves into a small smile and he turns his eyes toward the sidewalk, some of the shyness returning. “I mean, you don’t have to, of course, but it’d be my treat. As a thank you for everything, you know. And I have something kind of important to tell you.”
“Sure,” Wato says, a little surprised. “I’m free tomorrow night, I think. Unless Hana needs me to fill in.”
“Great!” Itsuki grins again. “I’ll text you.”
When Wato comes back into the apartment, the bonsai has moved from the coffee table to a brightly lit spot on their living room floor. She’s pretty sure it isn’t just her imagination that the soil looks more moist than when she’d had left, and that the tiny green needles on its branches have been freshly spritzed with water.
Sherlock denies any involvement in this, and denies it again when the bonsai mysteriously moves to a shadier part of the room after exactly four hours.
Wato and Sherlock go out for lunch the next day at a cafe near the museum after another fruitless look around room 203. Sherlock had wanted another look at the pithos and another test done on the vents, convinced that the last batch of scientists had been a bunch of incompetents, but the pithos had been hidden away again in storage, the room emptied and locked.
The director had sent nearly all of the remaining research staff home for the rest of the week after so many had fallen ill, and closed the museum to the public while more specialists tried to determine what had caused the outbreak. He hadn’t wanted to let her and Sherlock near the restoration wing at all, but then Sherlock had threatened to climb down through the elevator shafts and he’d grudgingly handed over a guest key card, if only to save himself the property damage. It had been even more silent than usual, hollowed out and eerie with most of the rooms closed up and abandoned. They hadn’t found anything new.
“We’re going to have to pay the other three bars a visit,” Sherlock says through a mouthful of gyudon. “Assuming that the police haven’t filed a report blaming Takeuchi’s death on a two thousand-year-old curse yet.”
Wato swats Sherlock’s hand away with her chopsticks when she tries to steal more of Wato’s noodles. “All three?” she asks, feeling sapped from the idea alone. “Not much happened last time. That bar might not even be connected to the Black Circle at all, for all the information it gave us.”
“It was theirs,” Sherlock says.
Wato raises an eyebrow at her, questioning.
“You didn’t notice? The building was taller on the outside. There was at least a three foot gap between the ceiling inside and the actual roof.” She spoons a third of Wato’s soup into her own bowl while she isn’t looking. “There was a foot ladder hidden behind the bar, and one of the tiles in the ceiling had fingerprints on it. That must be where they’re keeping the goods.”
Wato dwells on this for a moment. She had noticed that the building was unusually tall, but she’d thought -- well, she hadn’t thought about it, was the thing. Most people just didn’t pick up on these things naturally, the brain choosing to gloss over them, but they never escaped Sherlock’s notice, the minutiae.
“It could’ve been an attic,” she says finally, mostly just for argument’s sake.
Sherlock raises a disbelieving eyebrow. “A three-foot attic only accessible by foot ladder, through a hidden passageway in the ceiling?”
Wato shrugs, conceding. “If the police know that the Black Circle owns the bars, and they’re hiding stolen goods there, why don’t they just search them themselves?”
“They have ways of getting around the police. Bribery, corruption. Probably a few good lawyers on their side to stop any search warrants from getting approved.”
“But they’re right there. ”
“You know the police. They never get anything done on their own.” She stuffs a generous helping of rice into her mouth. “If they did, we wouldn’t be solving their cases for them every other day.”
“You like solving their cases, though.”
Sherlock makes a noncommittal noise around her food.
“Irihata was staying at the bar,” Wato says before taking a sip of her tea. “Shibata said he’s been spotted in the area a couple times in the last few days.”
Sherlock hums. “He’s probably a grunt for the Black Circle at most. An important figure in a million dollar crime ring wouldn’t be out in public on the day a murder is going to take place, let alone do it himself.”
“But you don’t think that Irihata did it.” It’s not a question. Wato knows Sherlock well enough by now that she can read a lot of her insights on a case before she puts them into words.
“He’s the only link we have to any motive for murdering Takeuchi.” Sherlock says. “If anything, though, it was one of his apprentices that did him in. Nobody else came in or out around the time of the murder, or even had access to that floor.”
“No!” Wato says, slightly horrified at the idea of any of the heartbroken assistants they’d spoken to murdering their mentor in cold blood. “Besides, a lot of them got sick, too, afterwards. The killer wouldn’t risk accidentally killing themself. ”
“Eliminate the impossible,” Sherlock says, but it’s weary at best. She takes a sip of Wato’s tea, leaving a dark stain of lipstick along the rim.
“Irihata must know we’re following him,” Wato says. “That must be why he left the first bar.”
Sherlock nods. "He’s probably hiding out in another bar for now -- probably the one in Roppongi, since it’s closest to the last one and he’s in a hurry. He's skittish, though. He’ll move again soon. We have to go tonight."
"Tonight?" Wato says, frowning. "I sort of have plans.”
"Plans?" Sherlock says, looking at Wato properly. Her mouth twists wryly. "Ah. Your painter."
" My painter? He's not my anything," she says, momentarily flustered. Sherlock raises an eyebrow at her, and uses the distraction to take a generous serving of Wato’s noodles. "He has a name, you know. You've met him."
"And why would I remember something like that?" Sherlock says airily, around a mouthful of food. Wato snorts.
Sherlock's pointer finger starts to tap against her thumb, quick and rhythmic, which usually means she’s thinking about something a little too hard. She hasn't been alone tracking someone down in a while, Wato realizes.
"Will you be okay? I can reschedule." Probably. Itsuki must be used to Wato disappearing sometimes, anyway.
"Don't be stupid. I can track down an amateur art thief on my own," Sherlock says, eyes turned downwards. There's a hint of doubt there.
She meets Wato's eyes and smiles a little, genuine, if rough around the edges.
"Go see your painter. I’ll be fine."
She and Sherlock spend the rest of the afternoon studying the ventilation plan of the museum’s restoration wing for lack of anything better to do. They hole up in one of the rooms adjoined to the museum director’s office, upon his insistence that they don’t spend any more time on the restoration floor. Wato gives back the key card, glad that she held onto it herself. Sherlock would try to get away with pocketing it and sneaking back down if she could, certain that there must be something they’d missed.
They confirm that it is whatever it was that killed Dr. Takeuchi that’s making the rest of his team sick, since the researchers who started dropping like flies were the ones assigned to the rooms with the closest connections to the vents in 203, but not much else. Wato’s just grateful that the vents small and tightly-grated or Sherlock might be tempted to try to crawl through them like in a movie out of sheer boredom, traces of toxic material be damned.
Shibata emails them copies of a few of the other researchers’ medical reports, requested for use in the investigation. Most of them had been adamant about providing the data to the police if it would help with the case in some way.
Wato opens the files on her phone now. The reports describe something similar to what was in Dr. Takeuchi’s autopsy, but are equally inconclusive. Most of the doctors blame the early stages of emphysema, or a sudden onset of asthma, but with so many patients rapidly exhibiting the same unlikely symptoms with near synchronicity, Wato can tell that they’re stumped as well.
She can tell the case is frustrating Sherlock, since she can’t seem to pinpoint exactly how the murder was committed, and why. Hell, it’s frustrating her . There’s Irihata, of course, and the Black Circle, but neither of them have ever been satisfied with getting only half of a puzzle finished. And Sherlock has doubts about even that much.
They go home minutes before the museum’s closing time, when a few of the guards start giving them anxious glances. The cab ride back is silent, Sherlock’s brow slightly furrowed as she stares straight ahead at some fixed point Wato can’t see. She pulls her legs up unto the seat and wraps her arms around her knees. Wato doesn’t stop her.
Wato’s still hesitant about going out to dinner and leaving Sherlock to deal with the second bar alone, but Sherlock practically kicks her out of the apartment at quarter past eight, insistent that she make it on time for her ‘date with the painter’.
(“It’s not a date,” Wato says for the fiftieth time as she tries on the third outfit.
Sherlock just gives her a look , and tugs on the sweater she’s chosen disapprovingly.)
After Wato makes very sure that Sherlock will call her if anything happens, she leaves to meet Itsuki at the restaurant they’d agreed on -- a modern but homey bistro in Minato with surprisingly low prices, not too far from the bar Sherlock’s staking out.
“Sorry I’m late,” she says when she finds their table. “I was doing something with Sherlock. It took longer than we expected.”
“You aren’t even late, though,” Itsuki laughs. “You’re just used to being the earliest one all the time.”
She smiles, sheepish, and sits down across from him.
“Wow,” Itsuki says, taking in her appearance (a blazer, nicer than what she’d usually choose, and a darker, bolder shade of lipstick that Sherlock had insisted on). “You look ready for a date. I feel underdressed.”
“Oh, um. Is this a date?” Wato asks, suddenly unsure if she’s assessed this right after all. She doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to things like these, but she’d been pretty sure when it came to Itsuki.
“No, no,” he says, laughing. “I just meant that you look nice. Not that you aren’t wonderful but, you know. You’re one of my best friends, since I moved here.” Itsuki smiles, small but earnest in a way that tugs on Wato’s heartstrings.
“Besides,” he continues. “It’d be a little hard to compete with someone like Sherlock, with you being practically married and all. I knew you secretly had a soft spot for her. I could sort of tell from the way you talk about her, you know, even when you’re complaining.” Then, his eyes widen. “Please don’t tell her I said that, though, the thing about competing with her. I was joking. She might, like, murder me in my sleep.”
“Oh,” Wato says, a little dumbfounded. Before she can stop herself, she blurts, “She wouldn’t do that. She’d think it was too boring.”
Thankfully, Itsuki just laughs again. “And you said I had nothing to be afraid of,” he says.
“She isn’t a spy,” Wato insists, exasperated.
“No, just someone who works with a variety of poisons on the daily.”
“She doesn’t usually -- well. Actually.”
“See what I mean?” Itsuki says. “Scary.”
That’s when Wato’s phone vibrates with a text.
“Is that her?” Itsuki asks. “Oh, my god. She either has a sixth sense or really good timing. Or maybe she tapped your phone. Spies do that, right?
“She’s not a spy,” Wato says absentmindedly as she reads the text.
(8:47) If this man doesn’t do anything interesting in the next five minutes, I’ll fall asleep.
(8:48) I’m less than twenty feet away and he hasn’t noticed me. What a joke.
Wato huffs out a laugh. “Sorry, she’s kind of -- in the middle of something important. Do you mind if I reply to this?”
“Go ahead,” Itsuki says. “In the middle of something important, huh? Is she on a stakeout? ”
“What, no. Of course not,” Wato says, not meeting his eyes.
Itsuki raises a brow in incredulity, and takes a sip from his drink.
Wato types out a text and sends it.
(8:49) be careful. you don’t know how many of those people are criminals.
A bored Sherlock usually turns into an impulsive Sherlock, and Wato isn’t eager to see what she might do without Wato there to rein her in.
(8:50) did you spot anything like the attic in the first bar?
Sherlock sends her a picture in response. It’s a little blurry and oddly angled, obviously taken on the fly, but Wato can make out what’s probably the space behind the bar, the checkered floor. She can see the bartender’s feet in the corner of the photo.
At first, Wato isn’t sure what she’s looking at. Then, she spots it: hidden in the space between two tiles are small hinges, catching the light slightly but still nearly invisible to anyone who isn’t looking for them.
(8:52) There’s a trapdoor embedded in the floor. It’s bolted shut and I can’t get past the bartender alone.
(8:52) Don’t worry, I won’t try. I’m not stupid
(8:53) don’t do anything dumb without me there to stop you
Wato sets her phone on the table, face up near her right hand so she’ll notice if Sherlock texts again, and turns her attention back to Itsuki.
“Sorry,” Wato says, smiling apologetically. “She’ll probably text again a few more times.”
“It’s fine,” Itsuki says. “She’s your friend, and sometimes you go on urgent, secret errands with her that you can’t talk about. I get it.” He pauses. “Well, I don’t, not really, but you know what I mean.” He grins. “I always knew you city folk got up to way more interesting things than anything that ever happened in Gifu.”
“Not really. I think it’s just her.”
“Both of you, you mean. Oh! Anyway, I have something to tell you. The kind-of important thing.” He pauses. “Okay, well, it really isn’t that important, come to think of it. Definitely not as exciting as a stakeout.”
“What is it?”
“Okay. Okay, so. One of the galleries downtown -- you know, those small ones where they hold wine tastings and shit? They were taking applications for amateur artists to feature, fresh meat, I guess. So I sent a few of my old pieces in, and they kind of -- offered to display them in their next exhibit?”
“You’re getting featured in a gallery?” Wato says. “Itsuki! That’s amazing! I’m so happy for you.”
Itsuki looks shyly pleased. “I mean, it’s a small gallery, and they probably didn’t have a lot of applicants in the first place. It’s not really a big deal, I think.”
“Of course it’s a big deal. It’s your first exhibit!”
Itsuki smiles, wide and happy. “Yeah,” he says, a little disbelieving. “My first exhibit.”
A waiter comes to their table with a basket of warm, fragrant bread. Wato makes Itsuki tell her exactly where and when the exhibit will be, and marks the date on her phone about fifty times because there’s no way she’s missing that .
Then, they get talking for real, breaking off pieces of bread in between sentences. Wato learns that Hana’s band actually got booked to play for a few nights at a pub downtown, that Mrs. Watanabe’s daughter just graduated from highschool, that Itsuki managed to get saddled with a new and even worse roommate than the last. They talk about a young but talented artist whose work Itsuki thinks is genius, and about Itsuki’s plans to visit his hometown for a few days over the summer.
Wato ends up talking about her own college life (because life as a medical student had been harrowing, surreal, and strange enough that she’d gotten a couple good stories to tell out of it), the odd jobs she’s been working since she got back from Syria, even a little bit about what she’s been doing with Sherlock, leaving out the more incriminating details.
“I’ve always wanted to learn how to play an instrument,” Itsuki says excitedly when Wato mentions Sherlock’s cello. “I heard string instruments are pretty hard, though.”
“I was a waiter at one of the restaurants near the studio when I first moved here. Didn’t last a week,” he says, grinning, when Wato tells him about the job she’d been working when they’d taken the Wakasugi case.
Wato even talks about Syria a little, surprising herself. She hasn’t been avoiding it, necessarily, but the words always seem to die in her throat before she can voice them, choked down by memories of baring herself to the only other person who seemed to know what it was she was feeling, the constant reassurance that she was understood . Soft hands on her shoulders, waking up in someone else’s apartment and feeling content. And then, everything else.
This time, though, she manages to get the words out, and the memories that well up in her mind are different: a family reunited, huddled together in a tight bubble of relief and love and joy, oblivious to the town that’s been levelled around them or just not caring. A girl, no older than seven or eight, holding a flower out to her as a thank you after she cleans and bandages her brother’s wounded calf.
Itsuki listens carefully, thoughtfully. He doesn’t say much, while Wato speaks, but she can tell from the look on his face that he’s listening: sincere and open, silently urging her on. When Wato gets choked up remembering a man she hadn’t been able to save, he reaches out for her wrist and squeezes it gently, an unspoken comfort. He’s nothing like Moriya, really. Wato is glad for it.
Sherlock’s next message comes about almost an hour after the last, which is impressive if Sherlock is as bored as she says she is. It’s a picture of Irihata taken from a few tables away, zoomed in on his phone. He’s playing Candy Crush.
(9:31) He’s been stuck on the same level for the past thirty minutes.
(9:31) I’m going to lose my mind
(9:32) I might have to go over there and do it for him
(9:32) please don’t!!!
(9:33) He just ran out of lives anyway. What an idiot
(9:34) Stop texting on your date
(9:34) i told you it’s not a date !
(9:34) and you’re the one texting me
Sherlock stops for a while after that.
Wato’s glad that she’d been right about the date part, or she probably would’ve felt more self conscious about eating her coq au vin like someone who hasn’t laid eyes on food in years, but Itsuki is much the same, shoving huge spoonfuls of cassoulet into his mouth. Wato doesn’t blame him; the food really is that good, warm and practically melting in her mouth. Even though she and Sherlock had eaten lunch earlier, she finds that she’s famished.
Wato gets another picture from Sherlock as she and Itsuki are slowly picking at a tarte tatin , sleepy and stuffed full from dinner. In the picture, Irihata is slumped onto the table with his head pillowed on his arms and surrounded by at least half a dozen empty glasses.
(10:02) This is the man the police think committed an unsolvable locked room murder.
(10:03) Passed out drunk at 10 PM. Pathetic.
(10:03) This is pointless. I’m going home
(10:04) actually go home ok
(10:04) don’t just pretend to then do something stupid and/or start a barfight
(10:04) i’ll know.
Sherlock ignores her texts pointedly, but twenty minutes later, Mrs. Hatano confirms that Sherlock has indeed come home sans any black eyes or other obvious injuries.
A weight seems to lift off her shoulders after that, knowing that Sherlock is home safely. She hadn’t even realized it was there.
(10:27) thank you :-)
Sherlock replies with another picture, this one of their bonsai. It’s back on the coffee table with a fresh layer of the fertilizer Sherlock had bought on their way back from the museum, in what she had clearly thought was a very discreet and inconspicuous fashion that Wato wouldn’t notice.
(10:31) Your terrible plant misses you.
Wato can’t stop herself from smiling like an idiot when she reads the message and Itsuki, like the traitor he is, teases her mercilessly.
They walk to the Metro Station slowly, the cool night air comforting. She’s reminded a little of that night walking home with Sherlock after the first bar, stopping to appreciate every little thing.
“Thank you, for dinner. And everything.” Itsuki says, smiling warmly. “I wasn’t lying, when I said that you’re one of my best friends.”
He looks nervous again, unsure of himself. Wato squeezes his shoulder lightly in reassurance.
“I probably wouldn’t have worked up the courage to send anything in at all if you hadn’t been there, you know,” Itsuki says quietly.
“I’m sure you would have,” Wato says. “You’re really talented.”
Itsuki shakes his head, smiling. “You were my first friend, I think, when I moved here. I didn’t really know what I was doing, if it was worth it to even try to make a living off of my art. But the way you talked --” Itsuki pauses, shaking his head again. “It was like you actually believed I could do it. Like it wasn’t just some pipe dream. It made me want to try.”
Wato is fiercely glad, suddenly, for every encouraging thing she’s said to Itsuki without really thinking about it, without knowing it had made a difference at all. Not knowing how to put it all into words, she pulls Itsuki into a hug.
“You probably saved my life a little,” he mumbles into her shoulder. “If it weren’t for you, I’d still be doing math, of all things.”
Wato laughs and hugs him tighter, feeling really, very glad for him.
Wato gets back to their apartment at around midnight, exhausted but happy.
She’s not surprised to find Sherlock still awake, because the hours between twilight and sunrise are when she does her best work, supposedly. She’s on her laptop, sitting at her desk with her back facing Wato.
Wato sees the brief moment that Sherlock's shoulders tense as she enters their living room. Not really working, then, if she'd noticed Wato coming in. Waiting up.
Wato smiles, because it's nice, having Sherlock worry about her sometimes. It's nice that Sherlock cares, even if she usually shows it in her roundabout, Sherlock way,
Sherlock's eyes dart from her clothing to her face to her shoes. The slowness and heaviness of her steps. The droop of her eyes, the smile on her face. She watches as Sherlock puts a story together in her mind, and doesn't bother trying to hide anything. It's pointless. It always is, with Sherlock.
She lets Sherlock draw her own conclusions, tries to see herself through Sherlock's eyes. Lipstick smudged and faded, but only from when her lips touched the glass she'd been drinking from. Clothing rumpled, but not creased enough to suggest that someone else's hands had been grasping at it. Something like relief settles in Sherlock's expression, maybe.
“The director sent us the results from the secondary tests in room 203. Still nothing.” Sherlock says.
Wato yawns, and takes of her jacket to hang it on their coat rack. “Of course not. That would be too simple, and nothing’s ever simple for us.”
“How was your painter?” Sherlock asks.
“Good,” Wato answers, having spent so much time with her that the non sequitur doesn’t even confuse her. “He’s still scared of you, and he thinks you’re a spy, by the way.”
Sherlock snorts. “Tell him he isn’t wrong,” she says before she turns her attention back to her laptop.
On Saturday, they go to Koto to pay the third bar a visit. It’s a little further out from their apartment than the last two were, and they get there later than usual.
It’s more like a nightclub than a bar at all. The building is dark and loud and so full of people that they’re practically spilling out onto the streets, the air inside muggy. She and Sherlock manage to squeeze in through the doors.
Wato is on edge immediately. She’d never really been a fan of places like this but after the first signs of PTSD had made themselves known, she’d started avoiding them altogether, the atmosphere alone making a thread of unease curl in her chest.
Sherlock leads her to the bar, where the crowd is less dense and the music isn’t as loud. The floor still trembles beneath her feet with each beat as she presses the palms of her hands to the long wooden table, steadying herself. Sherlock’s hand is at the small of her back for a moment, grounding. Her lips press together as she searches Wato’s expression, her eyes worried. We can leave if you want, she says silently, with the smallest tilt of her head towards the door. Wato waves her away.
She has no idea how they’re going to find Irihata in this place, if he’s here at all. She takes a deep breath, and can practically taste the smoke and sweat and alcohol in her mouth. Her stomach churns.
Irihata spots them first, it turns out, from the crowd. They probably wouldn’t have found him at all in the sea of people if he hadn’t started jostling them out of his way, frantically making a beeline for the exit.
As it is, Wato notices the man knocking into people clumsily, cutting a jagged line through the crowd. Then, he turns and looks at them, his eyes wide and afraid as they meet hers for a fraction of a second before he turns away and starts moving away faster. She recognizes him right away, how can she not? His face is practically burned into her retinas after the hours they’ve spent staring at his file, trying to find a connection, a hint, anything .
She nudges Sherlock, and points out Irihata, the music so loud that it masks anything she says. Sherlock grabs her wrist and says something Wato can’t make out before merging with the crowd, chasing after him.
Wato follows, or she tries to, but once she’s on the dance floor, she can barely see two feet in front of her. The combination of the the shouting, the pounding music, and the flashing lights casting them in and out of darkness is starting to make her dizzy, make her chest hurt. She feels her lungs tightening, seizing up and simultaneously gasping for air until she can’t move, she can’t breathe, she can’t find Sherlock in the press of bodies, she can’t breathe --
But then Sherlock is there, right there in front of her and speaking to her. Wato can't seem to understand a word, but it's Sherlock steadying her, carefully maneuvering her through the crowd. Wato closes her eyes and breathes heavy, shaky breaths and holds onto her as the noise around her fades and the harsh, blinding light fades and all that’s left is cool night air and Sherlock's hands, gentle and warm against her shoulders, her hands, her face.
"Sherlock," she gasps, still breathless.
"Wato," Sherlock says, managing a small smile before the worried furrow returns between her brows. They’re in the alleyway outside the building. Wato can still hear the music and the noise through the wall, but it’s considerably muffled, much farther away now. Sherlock must have dragged her out through the back door.
"Where's Irihata?" Wato asks when her breathing is more or less even.
"Lost him," Sherlock says. "Took advantage of the distraction and bolted. I don’t know what we expected, anyway. He’s always just running. We’ve never seen him actually do anything.” Her eyes turn hard. “If he chose this place on purpose because he knew it might affect you like this, I'll murder him the next time we track him down."
“He probably just got lucky,” Wato sighs. “You didn't leave me and go after him?”
Sherlock gives her a long, disbelieving look, managing to convey her concern and utter exasperation at the same time.
"Okay, okay," Wato says, a tired but genuine smile spreading across her face.
They’re about to leave when Wato notices something about the alleyway.
She runs her fingers over the concrete wall, designed with faux bricks and painted over in black. “This wall is part of the building, right?”
“Yes?” Sherlock says, expression fondly nonplussed.
“But the bar was up against the wall, and it was adjacent to the back door, which was in the corner of the room. Right? So there’s no reason this wall should extend so far out beyond the door. Unless...” She trails her fingers further along, following the line of bricks until her nails catch on something -- the tiniest gap between the bricks where there should be only smoothed over paint. She digs her nails in and pulls , until the brick comes loose in her hand.
In the space behind it is a door handle, inlaid with a lock. Wato meets Sherlock’s eyes. Wordlessly, she reaches into her coat pocket and pulls out a tiny wrench and pick. She sets to work getting the door open.
Sherlock spends a few minutes carefully twisting the wrench in the keyhole. Wato is alert the whole time, waiting for someone to walk out of the bar and discover what they’re doing, or for Irihata to come back, maybe, but nothing happens. It’s a good place to hide something; its position secluded and nearly invisible to anyone looking in from outside the alleyway.
The lock clicks. Sherlock slowly turns the handle and pulls, part of the faux brick wall smoothly separating from the rest. They step inside the dark, narrow room, the music louder inside but still muffled. It must be a thick wall, then, separating this room from the rest of the bar.
Sherlock gropes the wall by the door for a lightswitch. She finds it, and flicks it on, bathing the room in warm yellow light, similar to the low lighting of the museum’s restoration floor.
Wato’s eyes take a second to adjust and register the contents of the room. Then, she pales.
Dozens of paintings cover the walls from floor to ceiling, stacked like building blocks where space has run out. Old paintings, expensive paintings, some with polished, gilded frames, studded with jewels. In the corner of the room, next to what Wato is fairly certain is a Matisse sketch, if her memory of Mrs. Watanabe’s class last week is to be trusted, is a sleeping bag and a hastily stuffed backpack. Irihata.
“We need to call Reimon,” Sherlock says, her voice strained.
Wato nods mutely, finding herself unable to tear her eyes away from the sheer opulence , and fumbles her phone from her pocket.
Shibata texts them the next day, thanking them for the tip about the hidden door, and, incidentally, the recovery thousands of dollars’ worth of stolen art.
He says that by the time the police searched the room, the sleeping bag was gone, along with any trace that Irihata had been there at all.
my search history after writing this chapter:
- 100 years spent on google maps trying to figure out Tokyo's layout (and failing miserably)
- are trees plants
Thank you for reading! Please leave a comment and tell me what you thought! <3
Chapter 3: Beam a light on me, I am a satellite
(and I can't get back without you.)
“Why does tragedy exist? Because you are full of rage. Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief.”
― Anne Carson, Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides
(Sorry, I know it's been a whiiile.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sherlock breaks an Erlenmeyer flask when she hears, causing tiny shards of glass to scatter across the floor.
“ Fuck ,” she hisses once Wato gets her to sit down and let her take care of her bleeding hand. “We never should’ve left the police to take care of that on their own.”
Wato uses a pair of tweezers, freshly sterilized, to carefully lift the biggest piece of glass out of Sherlock’s palm, steadying her wrist with her other hand. “You were the one who told me to call Reimon,” she reminds her mildly, before dropping the bloody shard onto the table. The cut isn’t too deep, thankfully, but a trickle of blood wells up once the glass is gone, and Wato can feel Sherlock tense up beneath her fingers from the pain.
“And who did he send? The patrol division. ” Sherlock grits out as Wato maneuvers another piece of glass out of her hand. “‘Go home,’ they said. ‘Let the professionals handle this.’ He was right there, and they lost him! Within minutes! ”
“To be fair, Irihata’s pretty good at disappearing fast.” Wato says. “And Reimon said they couldn’t send an actual investigative unit or there’d be legal issues. Since, you know, we technically broke into private property to search the bar, among other things.” The Black Circle would probably have a field day taking them to court for trespassing, if the chief of police didn’t do it first. To this day, he still wasn’t fond of Sherlock and, by extension, Wato. He usually alternated between glowering at them and, whenever they closed a particularly difficult case, grudging, pained praise.
“Reimon sent us lackeys who’ve never worked on a damn investigation in their lives .”
“Mhmm,” Wato says, placating, as she picks out the last shard. “We have to wash your hand again.”
Sherlock grumbles under her breath, but comes with her to the faucet with less resistance than usual. Wato washes the cuts, her grip on Sherlock’s wrist soft as she positions her hand beneath the stream of water. The wounds have stopped bleeding, mostly, but the water is still tinged with red as it goes down the drain. She pats Sherlock’s palm dry with a paper towel and leads her back to the couch.
Wato goes to the bathroom to pick up their first aid kit before settling next to Sherlock, their knees touching as Wato turns to face her. She sprays disinfectant into the cuts, which earns a few more pained hisses from Sherlock, before bandaging her hand snugly.
“The cuts should heal in about a week,” Wato says softly into the inches between them. “Try not to use your injured hand too much until then.”
“A week? ” Sherlock says, slouching into the couch, worn out. “How am I supposed to survive a week one-handed?”
“It doesn’t really seem like you were on top of things, even with two.”
“It was an accident! If anything, you should blame the police for being so incompetent that I’ve been reduced to breaking lab equipment.”
“Right,” Wato says drily. “Because that logic makes complete sense.” She stands. “Well. I’d better sweep up the remains of your flask before you manage to hurt yourself again.”
Sherlock lifts her head off the couch, eyes slightly panicked. “What, no. Stay with me. I’m grievously injured.”
Wato rolls her eyes. “You poor baby. The glass isn’t going to clean itself up, and I know you certainly aren’t going to help.”
“You can clean it up later,” Sherlock whines. “It isn’t going to get any worse if you leave it for a few minutes.”
“If I leave the shards of glass on the floor? God, Sherlock, how did you survive before I moved in?”
Sherlock tilts her head to meets Wato’s eyes and says, quietly, achingly earnest, “I really don’t know.”
Wato swallows thickly, feeling her heart jolt in her chest. They’ve got a sort of unspoken agreement, the two of them. A system, where they don’t need these big, heartfelt declarations because deep down, they both know all the important things without having to put them into words. But sometimes Sherlock goes and says something like this, raw and honest, and Wato --
Wato turns away. She opens their cabinet and wills her breathing to even out as she rummages around for their broom and dustpan. She sweeps up the glass in long, smooth motions, keeping her hands steady, and tries not to let on about the sudden restlessness coursing through her, making her want to run, or scream, or (finally, finally) drag Sherlock in and --
It’s just -- it’s too much, sometimes. She’s never felt so much for one person before. She doesn’t know how people can bear it, to hold it inside of them.
She takes her time, making sure not to leave any glass in between the crevices of the floor. The whole time, she feels Sherlock’s gaze on her, unwavering, the intensity of it making something beneath her skin prickle with heat.
Wato catches Sherlock watering the bonsai, later that day.
“I thought you were going to work,” she says, her expression cagey. She tries to hide the little spray bottle she was using behind the plant pot, as if Wato hasn’t already seen it.
“Hana said she could come in today,” Wato says, crouching down next to Sherlock. “Don’t stop. We can keep pretending it’s the wandering ghost of a botanist who’s been obsessively keeping track of the soil’s water concentration, if that’s what you want.”
Sherlock scowls, but she picks the spray bottle up again. “It’s a phosphorus-concentrated nutrient solution. I’d never give it anything as inane as water .”
Wato laughs. “Why do you know so much about plants, anyway? Are you just waiting for the fateful day someone commits tax fraud in a greenhouse, or, or murders someone with a potted plant so you can finally unearth all this useless knowledge?”
“You never know,” Sherlock says drily. “ No , I didn’t always have an encyclopedic knowledge of bonsais. Even I’m not that-- I did some research, after you brought it home.”
“You used up some of your precious brain-closet space for our bonsai? That’s sweet.”
“ Our bonsai? This hideous thing is definitely yours.”
“But who’s been taking care of it all this time?” Wato teases. “I can help with that, if you want me to. Wouldn’t want to be the neglectful parent.”
Sherlock rolls her eyes. “You couldn’t be neglectful if you tried.” Still, she holds the spray bottle out to her, and Wato crouches down beside her to take it.
“Were you using your injured hand?” Wato asks, eyeing Sherlock’s bandages.
“No,” Sherlock says, darting her eyes away. Wato raises an eyebrow, her gaze unflinching as she stares Sherlock down. Sherlock sighs, yielding. “It’s just a few cuts! It’s so annoying , not being able to use it.”
“You should’ve thought about that before you started throwing glassware around.”
“It was an accident ,” Sherlock says, her voice dripping with exasperation.
“Okay, okay,” Wato says, holding out the spray bottle. “Show me how to do it.”
Sherlock guides her hand to soil surrounding the base of the bonsai and shows her how to angle the spray bottle so the solution can be better absorbed by its roots. Her fingers trail against Wato’s wrist, the bandage wrapped around her palm rough against Wato’s skin. Sherlock leans in until her chin is nearly resting on Wato’s shoulder, and speaks softly into her ear.
Wato tries to imagine a life where she hadn't met Sherlock.
She imagines living in another small, crappy apartment, probably. Working in another library, another restaurant, without having to worry about looking for an employer willing to put up with her odd hours. Falling asleep to silence instead of the sound of Sherlock pacing their apartment and talking to herself at odd hours of the night.
A boyfriend, maybe. A husband. The thought slips like water through the crevices of her mind before it can even fully form.
She imagines dying, burning to death in her hotel room, all alone. Becoming a pawn for Stella Maris, becoming a killer. Rotting from the inside under the weight of all the misery and loss.
A lot of the time she’d spent under Dr. Irikawa's control had turned blurry and surreal, almost dreamlike in her memory, but she remembers vividly that even then, she'd seen Sherlock everywhere. In every room and every corner, she was a silent and palpable presence. In an empty field, she’d stood across from Wato, Sherlock’s eyes never leaving her face as she aimed and shot, aimed and shot. In her sleep, she'd dreamed of Sherlock.
Dr. Irikawa had struck while the iron was hot. She’d sharpened the rotting pain, the anger, the grief to a jagged point until it was a weapon, easily manipulated, and Wato couldn't see anything else. That’s what it had all been about: keeping that pain alive, letting it fester into hatred.
And it had been easy, giving in, because even the burning, ugly bitterness was better than the grief threatening to eating her alive, wasn’t it?
But the truth is -- there’s no remedy for that kind of pain, not really. There’s time and comfort and vengeance and catharsis, but some things aren’t so easily forgotten.
The thing is, Wato could’ve done it. This, she knows with a sharp, painful certainty. She would’ve put her heart into that shot. She would’ve gotten it right, no matter how many tries it took. She would’ve filled the gaping pit that had opened up inside of her with Sherlock’s blood where there had once been a person, a memory. Then, she would’ve been happy or, at the very least, whole again.
Then, she’d woken up, and Sherlock had pitched herself off a building, and Wato had felt suddenly, acutely, emptier than ever.
( Not empty, Wato’s mind corrects. She’d woken up and she’d been full of love . It had coursed through her, spilling out of her in torrents because within Wato, Sherlock and love were a single entity, not so easily separated.
And Wato had understood then, that those who were full of that jagged, bitter grief had once been full of love, pure love, that had been taken and turned and poisoned. Love that had been torn apart and forgotten, that took on new and vindictive forms, but could never be disposed of completely. Love that stayed. Love that lived on.)
They get a call from Shibata the next afternoon, just as the sun is beginning to set.
“Let it ring,” Sherlock says from her desk chair. “We’ve taken enough of his calls this week.”
Wato picks up the call and puts the phone on speaker mode.
There’s a muffled commotion on the other end, but no voice.
“...Hello?” Wato tries.
Shibata’s voice crackles through the speaker, uncharacteristically tense. “Get to the bar in Arakawa, now ,” he says. “Irihata came back to the museum. He tried to break into the restoration wing again, but took off before anyone could apprehend him.”
“Did he take anything?” Sherlock asks.
“He pickpocketed one of the researchers. Managed to get her key card, but one of the guards spotted him while he was trying to leave the museum.”
“Leave the museum?” Sherlock frowned. “He didn’t try to get into the restoration wing first?”
“I don’t know, maybe he was busy running from fucking security, ” Shibata says. “Get to the bar. Reimon and I are halfway across the city, you have a better chance of catching him.”
She and Sherlock manage to flag a taxi in record time, and the wad of cash Sherlock hands the driver is enough to persuade him to ignore any traffic laws that might prevent him from getting them to Arakawa in under five minutes.
Sherlock practically dives out of the car before it’s even stopped moving completely, and slams the bar’s doors open. She stalks into the building, Wato right behind her, and scans the room for any sign of Irihata. There’s nothing. The room is empty -- too early for the bar to actually be open -- except for the bartender, who stares at them, a little shell-shocked.
Sherlock turns to him, her eyes a little wild, probably about to grill him on Irihata, when something catches her eye -- behind the bar, a door to the staff room, nondescript and neatly blended into the wall. Except that the deadbolt has been thrown open, the door left gaping, and what’s behind it isn’t a staff room at all but a set of stairs spiralling downwards.
Sherlock makes a beeline for the stairs, heedless of the bartender’s weak protests, which are more caught off guard than hostile, anyway. Wato mutters a reflexive apology before following Sherlock down.
The underground room is smaller than the bar upstairs, but it’s filled to the brim. The floor space is crowded with crates piled up to the ceiling, and shelves, cluttered with junk.
Or, what looks like junk to Wato’s untrained eye, but to Dr. Takeuchi or one of his many assistants could very well be years’, maybe decades’ worth of collected priceless relics. There are clay pots, ceramic plates, instruments and weapons made of stone and metal. Small idols and statues, half-collapsed and chipped away. Tapestries adorn the walls, faded but still glimmering slightly in the faint light. Each wall is hung with engravings, amulets, carvings. Painted masks and woven garments. Jewelry and ornaments.
Camouflaged among the odds and ends is a cot, shoved into the corner of the room farthest from the door like an afterthought. It’s bare except for a thin, rumpled sheet, and crooked as if someone had shoved it aside in a hurry. The backpack from the other bar is gone.
“He’s leaving,” Sherlock realizes, staring at the empty cot. “He’s planning to disappear for good.”
She rushes back up the stairs, pulling Wato along by the arm. They tumble out from behind the bar and through the front doors, nearly crashing into Shibata. The sun has nearly gone down all the way, bathing the street in a faint orange glow.
“What’s going on?” Shibata asks, steadying Wato by the shoulder. “We just got here.”
“Irihata’s gone,” Wato says. “He took his things and left.”
Shibata curses. “He can’t have gotten far,” he says.
“Come on ,” Sherlock hisses, and she runs down the street, ducking into the alleyway between the bar and the next building. Shibata follows a moment after. Wato goes after them, but in the near-darkness, she loses their trail after the first few turns. She turns a corner only to find the next alleyway empty, the other two nowhere to be found.
She slumps against the concrete wall of the building nearest to her, her chest feeling tight. These chases usually take a toll on her, make her feel breathless and weak , in a way she hates.
She’s ready to circle back to the bar and find the others when from behind, a clammy hand clamps down over her mouth, another snaking around her neck. She feels something cold and sharp press into her throat.
“Don’t move,” a gruff voice mutters in her ear, and she freezes, willing herself not to panic. She tries to keep her breathing even, the cold metal against her skin making her conscious of every inhale and exhale. What would Sherlock do? There’s nothing, nothing around her to use against the attacker, unless she can manage to use her weight to slam him into the wall, but Wato’s pretty sure he’s bigger and heavier than she is, and the knife is pressed close enough to her throat that she could end up hurting herself. Her prospects aren’t looking good.
“Let go of her,” comes Shibata’s voice from behind them.
Irihata turns towards the source of the voice, jerking Wato so sharply that the knife nearly grazes her throat. His hands are unsteady against her, twitchy and unsure, like a cornered animal. Scared, and unpredictable because of it.
Shibata has his gun drawn, pointed at Irihata’s chest. “Irihata Touma, you’re under arrest for the murder of Takeuchi Yuuto.”
Irihata laughs, the sound jarring and unpleasant. Wato can feel his breath against her neck, and it takes everything in her not to recoil away from him. “I never killed anyone,” he says. “Check your security cameras, or something. Do your damn job. I didn’t fucking kill anyone. ”
“You were at the museum the day he was murdered. You expect us to believe that that was a coincidence?”
“One job,” Irihata says, frantic desperation coloring his voice. “They said it’d be easy money, that they had places I could hide afterwards. All I had to do was lift one of those cards, the ones that get ‘em through the doors. See?” He reaches into one of the pockets of his jacket with the hand that isn’t holding the knife and pulls out the stolen key card, flinging it to the ground. It lands on the gravel at Shibata’s feet, skidding slightly. “See! That’s it. I’m done. I gave the stupid thing back and I didn’t kill anyone, so stop tailing me.” He presses the knife more heavily against Wato’s throat, his breathing going quick and shallow. “Stop fucking following me around.”
Wato inhales shakily. The blade presses into her skin, and it stings. If she moves even a centimeter, it’ll probably draw blood. It’s at the wrong angle, Wato thinks distantly. Irihata must not have ever done this before.
Shibata holds the gun steadily trained on Irihata. His eyes flick to something above Wato’s shoulder, and then several things happen in quick succession.
Shibata jerks his gun to the left and fires, suddenly. Irihata flinches, the hand holding the knife faltering. Wato hears the crunch of footsteps on gravel, and then something slams Irihata into the wall, hard. His head meets the concrete with an ominous crack and he falls to the ground, his grip on Wato going slack.
It takes her a second to get her bearings. Irihata, on the ground, blood trickling down his temple where it met the wall. Shibata, slowly lowering his gun, approaching cautiously. Sherlock, standing over them, unnaturally still. Her arms are still half raised, frozen in the motion of shoving Irihata into the wall. She’s hardly breathing as her eyes dart from Wato to Shibata to Irihata’s prone form on the ground where blood is beginning to pool.
Wato shakes off the shock as best she can, and kneels down next to Irihata to check his vitals. He’s breathing, and his heart rate seems normal when she checks his pulse, but the wound at his temple bleeds steadily. Wato steadies his head then takes off her jacket and holds it against the wound to stem the flow of blood.
“Call an ambulance,” she orders Shibata, keeping her eyes fixed on Irihata.
Shibata pulls out his phone and makes the call, turning and walking a few meters away from them as he speaks.
Wato hears Sherlock gasp behind her, her breaths coming fast and shallow now. She hears the crunch of gravel beneath Sherlock’s boots as she turns and stumbles away in the opposite direction, her gait unsteady and lacking its usual surety, before she collapses with her back against the wall and slides down, the fabric of her coat catching against the rough concrete.
Wato’s heart aches for her as she glances behind her and sees Sherlock with her arms wrapped around her knees, staring straight ahead at the wall opposite her. But Irihata is still bleeding into her jacket. Irihata, who is a thief and a liar and who, moments before, had held a knife to Wato’s throat. Who still doesn’t deserve to be abandoned here, bleeding out into the gravel.
It strikes Wato suddenly how young Irihata is, youth that the pictures in his file hadn’t managed to convey. But here, with his face slack and almost peaceful, it’s obvious. He can’t be older than twenty-five. Easy money, she thinks. That’s what he said had gotten him into this mess.
Shibata finishes the phone call and stands over them, silently observing with his arms crossed over his chest, his expression pinched with worry.
Soon, the ambulance comes. Wato explains the situation to the paramedics, brief and efficient; an instinct from her days as a doctor that had never left her. She lets them take her place next to Irihata with Shibata watching from a short distance. She doesn’t ask for her bloodsoaked jacket back.
Sherlock barely reacts when Wato slumps down beside her, close enough that their shoulders touch. Wato’s hands are starting to sweat and shake; that hasn’t left her, either. She sits there, pressed against Sherlock and willing herself to be calm, for a few silent minutes before Sherlock speaks, her voice barely above a whisper: “I killed him.”
“He’s alive,” Wato says, her voice coming out steadier than she expects, but weary. “He’s concussed, I think, but that’s probably the worst of it. You didn’t hit him that hard.” Still, the sharp sound of Irihata’s skull against concrete is stark in Wato’s mind. She imagines, from the hunted look in Sherlock’s eyes, that it is in hers, too.
Sherlock still won’t look at her. There’s a fleck of blood on the sleeve of her coat that she hadn’t noticed before, and a little staining the bandages on her palm both from the outside and in. It must have hurt when she’d shoved him into the wall, Wato thinks, Sherlock’s wounds reopening under the impact.
“Head wounds usually look worse than they really are,” Wato continues. “He’s going to be okay. It was good, that you did that. If you hadn’t, he could’ve hurt someone.” He could’ve killed me. “Shibata might’ve had to shoot him.”
Sherlock laughs, a guttural, pained sound. "I'm not good,” she says, her voice rough and raw. “I've never been good." She faces Wato, finally, her eyes wide and terrified. "Didn't you see? I killed him."
And Wato knows immediately what this is really about.
"You didn't kill him,” Wato says slowly. “You didn’t. The autopsy says that he died of the virus."
"It doesn’t matter what the autopsy says!” Sherlock nearly yells. She breathes raggedly, her face more open in that moment than Wato’s ever seen it, before she regains control of her expression, folds in on herself again. “I killed him. I shot him in the back and I killed him. I know what I did."
Wato sighs. They haven’t talked about it, not really. She hadn’t thought that they’d needed to; a lot of the time, they do their talking silently.
There had been the funeral. Wato had gone, and so had Reimon and Shibata, while Sherlock stayed by the car they’d arrived in, her mouth pressed in a tight line. Wato doesn’t blame her. By the time she’d come back to herself and seen how it had ruined Sherlock, shaken her to the core, how many lives she’d saved, how Sherlock had been about to throw away her own life like it didn’t matter, put all of herself into Wato’s hands without a second thought --
By then, she’d been a grieving mess, and there’d been nothing to forgive.
She’d thought -- she’d thought that Sherlock had known . Then again, she always did need some things spelled out for her.
“Sherlock. Listen to me. That day…” Wato begins. “He'd already decided that he was going to die. Before you found him, before either of us knew what was going on." Wato meets her eyes, won’t let her look away. "I know you would've saved him if you could. I know you would have tried." She raises her hand to cup Sherlock’s jaw. "I know you, okay? I know exactly who you are. I know that you're good."
Sherlock stares at her, a little disbelieving, a little desperate, a little hopeful, and Wato knows immediately that it's something she needed to hear. Just like Wato -- just like anyone else -- all Sherlock wants is for someone to have faith in her. To see her clearly, and tell her that she's wrong about herself.
Hesitantly, Sherlock leans in, watching Wato’s face the whole time, and presses a kiss to the corner of Wato's mouth before pulling back, her breath hot against Wato’s lips. Then, she cradles Wato’s face in her hands and kisses her deeply, tenderly, with so much warmth that Wato’s very bones ache with it, before pulling away again. She gets to her feet clumsily and stares down at Wato, wide-eyed.
She’s scared, Wato realizes, scared of her . Her pointer finger taps against her thumb, quick and rhythmic, and she alternates between searching Wato’s expression and being unable to meet her eyes.
She bites her lip, takes a step back, and then another, a silhouette against the dusk sky. Wato knows immediately that she’s going to bolt.
“Sherlock --” she says, but it’s pointless. She’s already gone.
The ambulance takes Irihata to the hospital, accompanied by Shibata. Wato offers to come along, but Shibata looks her in the eye, kind but firm, and tells her to go home.
She walks, since the idea alone of sitting in a train with dozens of people or hailing a cab exhausts her, and the bar is pretty close to their apartment, anyway.
She underestimates the distance, it turns out, and ends up walking for nearly an hour, her feet aching as she climbs the stairs to their apartment. Sherlock isn’t there. Wato texts her about a dozen times, knowing even as she sends each of them that she won’t get a response.
She shouldn’t be worrying this much. She knows Sherlock can handle herself, and she’s only been gone a few hours, but. She knows, deeply, that Sherlock isn’t untouchable like she makes herself seem, that anything could happen in the span of a couple hours while she’s out who-knows-where, alone and distracted, and it’s eating her alive.
She’s already half expecting the text from Kento, but it’s still a relief when she gets the message late that night: She’s fine . With me. Even so, her blood runs cold when, the next morning, she wakes and Sherlock still isn’t home. She goes through the rest of the day a high-strung, frantic mess.
She ends up cleaning most of the apartment for lack of anything better to do. She rifles through old case files, scraps of paper crammed full of Sherlock’s handwriting. An empty jar of toner that somehow found its way behind their couch.
Once she moves on to the kitchen, she realizes their fridge is nearly empty, since they’ve barely eaten at home for most of the week. She puts on her coat, resolutely not thinking about her ruined jacket, and goes to the grocery store. She relegates Sherlock firmly to the back of her mind, just this once, because she’s done nothing but worry for what feels like centuries .
It doesn’t work, predictably. She chooses between two cuts of meat, and remembers the article Sherlock had read to her about hormones in beef apparently being the source of all evil in the world, mocking every line the author wrote while Wato fought hard to stifle her laughter. She can’t stop herself from buying the brand of chocolate that Sherlock loves, even though it’s horrible for her. She passes by the convenience store on the way back to buy onigiri , because Sherlock forgets to eat more often than not when they’re on a case, so Wato needs to bring something for her or she’ll end up eating out of a vending machine.
Wato opens the door to their apartment and immediately knows that Sherlock’s home. She’s not sure how; it could be the shoes in the doorway, carelessly abandoned, or Sherlock’s coat crumpled and hanging off of one of the arms of their couch, but she’d known that Sherlock was back even before she noticed any of those things. A sixth sense she’d developed, maybe, a part of her brain fine tuned to pick up on all things Sherlock.
She finds Sherlock in the kitchen, rummaging through the fridge as if she’d never left. There’s a pile of library books on the table, and Wato’s willing to bet Sherlock hadn’t bothered to check them out properly. One of them lies open on the table, its pages brittle and yellowed with age. She pushes the pile aside to make room for the groceries and sets the bags down.
"What if it wasn’t a person that killed Takeuchi?" Sherlock says by way of greeting, still halfway inside the refrigerator.
Wato takes a closer look at the book on the table. It’s fairly thick, written in a foreign language and printed with rough black and white illustrations interspersing large blocks of text. Sherlock’s written in the margins, which makes Wato frown, but she used a pencil at least instead of something more permanent. La Malédiction du Récipient, reads the title on the page Sherlock’s marked up with her indecipherable chicken scratch.
“You speak French?” Wato asks.
“I can read it well enough,” Sherlock says. “I started learning the basics a few hours ago, and used a dictionary and context for the rest. It’s not so different from English, structurally.”
“Hmm,” Wato says. She’s stopped being surprised, really, by Sherlock’s casual brilliance, but it’s still rather fucking impressive . “What’s with the book?”
“It’s a history book from the late 1800s. The only one within a thousand-mile radius with documentation of the pithos incident of 1803, probably, since no one in their right mind cares about these things.”
“I’m not exactly known for being the pinnacle of mental stability, am I?” Sherlock says without missing a beat.
Wato chooses to ignore that, for now. “What did the book say?”
“Enough,” Sherlock says. “Most people focus on Lucien Mercier’s death but his guests -- they’re a far more interesting case. The author is clearly deluded, and nobody had the medical knowledge or technology to dredge up anything useful in the autopsies, but from what I could make out, Mercier’s guests started dropping like flies a few days after his party. Sick from something in their lungs. Sounds familiar?”
Sherlock lifts a half-empty tupperware of takeout out of the fridge. She opens it, makes a face, and puts it back in. Wato makes a mental note to throw it out later. “The doctors theorized that it was a new plague, or a virus of some kind, even though it never infected anyone outside Mercier’s household. It was one of the more interesting medical -- and supernatural -- cases of the century before it faded into obscurity.”
Wato blinks. “You think it was a two hundred-year-old plague that killed Takeuchi? That’s a little far fetched, even for you."
“Not a plague,” Sherlock says, and offers no further explanation. She abandons the fridge and opens the freezer, taking out a half-eaten tub of chocolate ice cream. Wato takes the ice cream out of her hands and replaces it with one of the onigiri she’d bought. She puts the tub back into the freezer.
“You were right about there being something important inside the pithos, by the way. Just not in the way we thought,” Sherlock says before unwrapping the onigiri and eating half of it in one bite, chewing inelegantly.
Wato notices a nearly empty plastic cup on the counter, and eyes it doubtfully. "Iced coffee at six P.M? Have you eaten anything else today?"
"I've been busy," Sherlock says with her mouth full. “And I needed the caffeine.”
"You're not supposed to have cold drinks on an empty stomach. You’ll get sick."
This coaxes a small smile out of Sherlock. "That’s a myth, there’s no correlation. I thought you were supposed to be a doctor."
Wato rolls her eyes, and throws away the plastic cup. She’d mostly said it to get a reaction out of Sherlock, anyway.
“So, what was it then? That killed Dr. Takeuchi?”
Wato raises an eyebrow. “You don’t mean the curse, do you?”
“ No. ” She sounds so aghast that Wato cracks a smile.
“Tell me,” she says. “Come on, I know you want to. No, wait.” She pauses. Sickness that spread through the vents, undetected. Death by pulmonary hemorrhage Something inside the pithos -- but the pithos had been empty, the inside damaged from water and fungus -- ah. “Mold?”
“ Stachybotrys chartarum ,” Sherlock agrees, sounding pleased. “Or a mutated version of it. Probably centuries old, feeding off of the moisture trapped inside the pithos until it ran out. The mold itself must have died long ago, but the spores contain mycotoxins --”
“-- And Takeuchi released them when he opened the pithos? That’s horrible. ”
“They’re small enough that the doctors and pathologists probably missed them, and sickness from mold exposure is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions. It was only a matter of prolonged exposure and inhalation. And the fact that Takeuchi locked himself in a room with deadly mold for nearly a whole day.”
“Really? That’s it?” Wato says, dubious.
“Eliminate the impossible, and what remains is the unlikely truth.”
“I didn’t think it was actually possible for someone to die that way. Especially an adult man,” Wato says. “No, wait, we must have inhaled the mycotoxins too and we haven’t died yet.”
“We still might,” Sherlock says, her voice far too cheerful given the circumstances. “But it’s unlikely. We weren’t there for too long. Besides.” Sherlock turns to face Wato. “If we die, it’ll prove my theory, at least. Not that it needs proving.”
“No, of course not.” Wato says, dry. “So Irihata was telling the truth?”
“I suppose,” Sherlock says. “Unless he planted the mold in the pithos two hundred years ago, he’s innocent. Mostly.”
Wato sighs. “Just when I was starting to look forward to arresting him.”
“We probably still can,” Sherlock says. “Attempted robbery, assault. I heard that he’s awake, though he apparently has no recollection of threatening you at knifepoint.”
“How convenient,” Wato says wryly.
“I could probably frame him for you, if you want. It would be at least fifteen years of jail time.”
“ Sherlock! ” Wato says, distressed. “No!”
Sherlock shrugs, and finishes off her onigiri . “Just a suggestion.”
Later that night, Wato finds her jar of cucumber toner empty. She frowns. Usually, Sherlock seems to know exactly when she was running low and leaves her a new jarful, but there hadn’t been one. She knows that Sherlock’s already started on the next batch, though, and she can go a day without it.
She’s using her fingers to scrape up the last few drops of toner when she sees Sherlock’s reflection in the bathroom mirror.
Wato shrieks. “Make more noise when you come in!”
Sherlock just shrugs from where she’s leaning against the doorway, arms folded over her chest. She pulls a new jar of toner out of her pocket and holds it out to Wato.
“I was supposed to finish this last night,” she says from the doorway. “Now my schedule’s thrown off.”
Wato takes the jar. “You should’ve thought about that before disappearing, then.”
She expects Sherlock to leave after that but she stays, still leaning against the doorframe, though with less nonchalance than before.
“I could do it for you, if you want,” she says softly. “You always have a hard time reaching it.”
“How did you know?” Wato asks, equally soft. There’s something precious and fragile about this moment that she doesn’t want to ruin.
“There’s a crease in your shirt after you use the toner. Always in the same place, but only on the right side.” Sherlock says. “I tested a few different positions to see which one fit best.”
Wato smiles a little, thinking about Sherlock contorting her arms into various positions the way Wato has every night, trying to obtain this tiny, ultimately useless piece of information. She thinks about Sherlock’s hands on her shoulder blades, along the scar tissue she’d kept hidden for so long. She’s grateful that Sherlock hadn’t mentioned it before, had at least kept the pretense of not knowing. She’s kind that way; she doesn’t gut people if she can help it.
Wato hadn’t been ready before, but she thinks she might be now.
You’re still you , Dr. Irikawa had said. Most of it had been lies and gentle manipulation, but that line -- it had been something she’d clung on to.
It’s been strange, realizing all the ways that she’s a completely different person, and all the ways she hasn’t changed at all. Strange, but freeing to finally be able to look at herself and not be afraid of what she might find.
And so she shouldn’t be scared of Sherlock seeing her laid bare. Because Sherlock already sees her and loves her for it, just like Wato does. Because if there’s one thing both of them have always seen clearly, it’s each other. They’d met eyes for the first time on a crime scene, in the middle of a tragedy, and they’d never looked away.
“Okay,” Wato says. “Okay, you can help.”
She starts to unbutton her shirt, conscious of every inch of skin she reveals. She feels Sherlock’s eyes on her, feels her gaze so acutely that when she finally pushes the shirt off of her shoulders, the very air around her seems charged with it, electric. She hesitates before looking in the mirror to see Sherlock’s expression, but she’d promised herself she wouldn’t be afraid of this, so she looks up.
The adoration in Sherlock’s face freezes her where she stands, and warms her to the core. It’s like Irikawa said: she’s still herself. Sherlock still looks at her the way she did yesterday afternoon, and every day before that. Wato loves her for it, loves her tremendously in that moment.
Sherlock meets her eyes in the mirror, asking a question silently. Wato nods, and Sherlock raises a hand to Wato’s back.
Her touch is soft, feather light, but Wato feels it in every part of her when she runs her fingers over Wato’s shoulder blade, over skin and scar tissue alike. She doesn’t know if it’s because nobody has touched her like this in so long or just because it’s Sherlock, but it’s like she’s been lit up from the inside, every touch sparking warmth in her, every nerve ten times as sensitive.
Wato opens the jar and holds it out to Sherlock. She dips her fingers in it and lathers toner onto Wato’s biggest scar, smoothing it over.
Wato shivers from the combination of the cold toner and the warmth of Sherlock’s hands. She takes her time, making her way down Wato’s back slowly. Her hands gain confidence as she goes along, no longer feather-light but still careful. Eventually, Wato stops feeling so high-strung, a calmness settling over her under the repetitive motions. She almost misses it when Sherlock speaks.
“Sorry,” she murmurs, not looking at Wato. “About yesterday. I wasn’t trying to -- I didn’t mean to --” She sounds so off balance, so unsure of herself. It breaks Wato’s heart. “I’m sorry. I’ll stop. I won’t -- I won’t do it again.”
“You’d better be apologizing for disappearing for an entire day and not the other thing,” Wato says.
Sherlock finally looks up, meets her eyes in the mirror.
“Sherlock,” Wato says, turning around to face her, exasperated. For all Sherlock could be brilliantly, impossibly perceptive, how could she have been blind to it?
“I’ll disappoint you,” Sherlock says, sounding heart-wrenchingly resigned. “I’ll fuck up so badly one of these days that it’ll drive you away for good. It’s only a matter of time.”
“Sherlock,” Wato says, cupping Sherlock’s cheek in her hand so she’ll look at her. “You already fuck up the bare minimum of being nice on most days. And I’m still here, aren’t I?”
“Don’t leave,” Sherlock whispers, miserable and desperate. “Please.”
“I’m not leaving,” Wato says softly.
“You don’t know what you do to me. This thing, I don’t know if I can stop it. You make me so -- so --”
“I know,” Wato murmurs, taking Sherlock’s hands in her own. “Me, too.”
Sherlock stops breathing altogether when Wato moves closer, but she doesn’t move away, not even when Wato’s so close that she can only see Sherlock's face in fragments: her dark eyes, the color on her cheekbones. She gulps, and Wato watches her throat move only inches away, feels the warmth of her.
She lets Sherlock look at her, lets her take it all in. The dilated pupils, the shallow breathing. How fast Wato’s pulse must be beneath her fingertips. Sherlock’s no good at talking most of the time, but this, this is her language. These things, she’ll understand.
"Hey," she says, tilting her head up to meet Sherlock's eyes, and she can't help but smile.
The corners of Sherlock’s lips curve upwards. Her shoulders relax, the tension leaving her, and then she laughs, light and happy, her eyes crinkling at the corners as she radiates sheer affection down at Wato.
With Sherlock so close to her, it’s like rest of the world has melted away. Tokyo could blow up, and they’d still be here, in this moment, warm and happy. Wato lifts her hand to Sherlock’s jaw, strokes her cheekbone the way she’s always wanted to, and holds her steady as she presses her mouth to Sherlock’s.
Sherlock's hands move to her sides, trailing up her arms as she kisses back. She doesn't know what to do with her hands, Wato thinks, almost giddy with it, because it's Sherlock who's grasping at her clumsily, Sherlock whose expensive lipstick is probably staining Wato's lips. It's beautiful, brilliant Sherlock who’s holding onto her for dear life like she's something precious, something that matters deeply.
She makes a soft sound against Wato’s lips and Wato feels it, impossibly, everywhere . She’s never wanted anyone so badly.
“I love you,” she says against Sherlock’s lips, meaning it with every ounce of her being.
She feels wetness against her her cheeks and pulls back.
“Are you crying? ” she asks, amused and disbelieving.
“No,” Sherlock says, emphatic, as she swipes at her eyes. “Shut up. Kiss me again.”
Wato kisses her again.
Things don’t really change much at all, after that.
Sherlock is right about the mold, as confirmed by a microbiologist and thankfully, not the death of anyone else involved in the case.
Irihata miraculously regains his memory of an incident involving one Tachibana Wato and a knife. He turns himself in to Reimon immediately after Sherlock spends a mysterious ten minutes alone with him in his hospital room, which both of them refused to speak of afterwards.
Wato sleeps in Sherlock’s bed now, though, which is definitely a step up. Sometimes, it’s hard to fall asleep on Sherlock’s cushiony mattress after years of stiff, threadbare cots in Syria and that fucking couch , which Wato finds endlessly frustrating, but Sherlock is still there doing whatever it is she does at ungodly hours of the night, and that’s what usually lulls Wato into unconsciousness.
The biggest changes, Wato thinks, are probably the intangible ones.
She can see it in Sherlock, the quiet happiness she carries in her now along with everything else. She sees it in herself, too.
So, here she is: herself, but different. Older, maybe, but somehow lighter.
And it’s good. Wato feels happier than she’s ever been, probably, because damn it, she’s worked hard to get to this point, they both have, and she’s sure that they’re getting somewhere. They’ve come this far, so they must be.
Or, maybe, they didn’t have to go very far at all, because even after everything, they still ended up right where they started.
The police recover all the artifacts that had been stashed in the bar in Arakawa. Shibata and Reimon’s unit searched the upstairs room after Irihata was brought to the hospital: thousands of dollars’ worth of stolen items retrieved, two locations secured. It’s a big victory against a crime organization that’s notoriously difficult to pin down -- that’s what the chief of police says in the meeting once Takeuchi’s case is officially declared closed, deliberately not meeting eyes with either of them even once.
Reimon and Shibata spend some time trying to figure out a way to get past the Black Circle’s legal loopholes, but it turns out they don’t have to. The bars in Shibuya and Roppongi have been deserted completely. It seems like the Black Circle just up and left; the staff no longer coming in to work and the hidden rooms emptied out as if they hadn’t been used in years, let alone the home to fifteen thieves’ dens’ worth of loot. They don’t find a single thing in either bar.
Questioning Irihata yields nothing besides confirmation that he really was too low on the command chain to know anything important.
Sherlock and Wato are off the case, technically, now that Dr. Takeuchi’s mystery has been solved. The issue of the Black Circle is another thing entirely, but --
-- Well, it irks Wato, too, leaving something half-finished.
"Your painter’s exhibit is in a few days," Sherlock says conversationally one afternoon.
They’re on Sherlock’s bed, watching Spirited Away on her laptop, which is balanced precariously on top of the blanket where her and Sherlock’s thighs meet. The two of them don’t really have a lot of options when it comes to movies, since Sherlock has the annoying habit of immediately prejudging everything she comes into contact with, and Wato can get a little iffy about war films and the more violent action sequences sometimes.
They’d settled on Spirited Away because Wato was feeling nostalgic, and even Sherlock couldn’t come up with anything bad to say about Spirited Away, though she’d tried, half-heartedly. Wato’s seen it several times over and hasn’t been following the plot all that closely this time around, but the animation is still beautifully captivating like it had been the first time, and the familiarity of it is calming, like coming back to an old friend.
Sherlock had gotten endearingly absorbed in the movie after the first five minutes, her eyes barely leaving the screen as she cradled Wato’s hand in her injured one, gently running her fingers over Wato’s palm and squeezing lightly whenever something exciting happened. Or so Wato had thought, until she spoke.
“Itsuki,” Wato reminds her. “I know that you know that his name is Itsuki. How did you know about his exhibit, anyway?"
"You set eleven reminders on your phone. Sixteen, if you count the hourly alarms on the day itself. They go off while you’re asleep, sometimes."
"Oh. Right," Wato says. “What about his exhibit?”
Sherlock is quiet for a moment before she says, “We could go to it. Together.”
Wato is about to agree, because she’d been planning on bringing Sherlock along, anyway, when she catches Sherlock’s nervous fidgeting and the way she won’t meet Wato’s eyes.
A teasing grin spreads across Wato’s face. “You mean, like a date? Are you trying to ask me out?”
Sherlock flushes. “You’re not making it easy, ” she whines.
Wato laughs. “Of course I’ll go on a date with you, you disaster. Come here.”
Sherlock shifts closer, still pouting the way she does when she’s embarrassed. Wato presses a kiss to Sherlock’s cheek, which flushes even more beneath her lips. She leans her head on Sherlock’s shoulder and turns her attention back to the movie. On screen, No-face and Chihiro ride the train deeper into the spirit world, silent and pensive. Wato’s always liked this scene for a reason she can never quite identify. The feeling it evokes, maybe. The peacefulness of it, embedded with a sort of melancholy.
“I think we’ve been going on dates for a while now, come to think of it,” she says after a moment.
She feels Sherlock’s shoulders shake with silent laughter. “I was wondering if you’d notice.”
There’s a funeral for Dr. Takeuchi, five days after the case is closed. She and Sherlock are invited, along with Shibata and Reimon. Wato can’t help but feel out of place, among so many people who loved this man she’d never truly known beyond an autopsy and a few case files.
Dr. Takeuchi had been a widower, it turns out. No children, but dozens of students and apprentices to make up for it. In the front row are the museum director and several members of his research team, most of them having recovered enough from the mold sickness to attend.
Wato recognizes the black-haired assistant who’d helped them the first day they’d come to the museum. She gives them a watery smile when she spots them before turning back to the front of the room. Wato watches her expression, and finds something familiar in it -- longing, maybe, for what could’ve been. For regrets and mistakes lost in time, never to be absolved. A weight to be carried.
She feels a sudden stab of immense sympathy. She may not have known Dr. Takeuchi, but she knows loss like an old friend, like a part of herself.
She presses incense to her forehead and holds it, for a moment, before dropping it into the burner. She bows, and says a prayer.
She and Sherlock walk home together afterwards. They don’t speak, but Sherlock’s sleeve brushes hers every few steps. It makes Wato smile a little, a deliberate but unspoken comfort.
After a while, Sherlock says, out of nowhere, “Why did Takeuchi die?”
Wato is silent for a moment. “Toxic mold exposure,” she says finally. “You said it yourself.”
“But why? ” Sherlock asks. “When someone dies, there must have been a catalyst. A decision they made somewhere along the line that led to it, or someone else’s decision.”
“It was an accident,” Wato says. “Does there have to be a reason?”
“There’s always a reason,” Sherlock says. “Every event is just the logical conclusion of what came before it. There’s always a -- a fault, somewhere.”
Wato turns that over in her mind for a while, and wonders why there’s something so off-putting about the idea. They’re almost home when she says, “I don’t think so.”
“I don’t think there has to be a reason for everything,” Wato explains. “Things just -- happen, sometimes. It doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault.” It could be easy, she thinks, to pin a tragedy on a single happening, or person, or circumstance and just -- carry that resentment forever, but. There’s something painful about it, too, to treat every horrible thing like a punishment for some unchangeable mistake or choice. Something limiting, and damaging, and -- wrong, she supposes.
Sherlock doesn’t reply, but her sleeve brushes Wato’s again. This time, Wato catches Sherlock’s hand in her own, and squeezes it lightly. Sherlock smiles, small and private, and moves a little closer to Wato.
Later on, hours after the funeral, Wato lies in Sherlock’s arms. Sherlocks hands trace down her spine lightly, up and down. Wato presses her nose into the crook of Sherlock’s neck and just -- breathes.
She breathes in Sherlock; the scent of her, the faint traces of her perfume left over from this morning.
It occurs to her that she’s wanted this for a while -- and, to some extent, she’d had it, but this. This is different. It’s fits, comfortably, as if they’ve been doing this for ages instead of a little over a week. It’s new and exciting and thrilling, in the way that being with Sherlock has always been for Wato, but at the same time, it’s the most familiar thing in the world, to be held by her. To have Sherlock within arm’s reach.
And Wato’s never believed in soulmates or split-aparts, but sometimes, in moments like this -- she wonders.
“Hey,” she murmurs into the dip of Sherlock’s collarbone. “What are you thinking about?”
Sherlock’s hand dips into the curve at the small of her back, gently trailing across the divots of her spine. “The Black Circle,” she says into Wato’s hair, her voice soft.
Wato hums. “It’s like you said. They got away, just like that.”
“Not unscathed, though.” Sherlock says. “They lost at least half of their stash of stolen goods. They’ll need to rebuild somehow, if they want to keep going. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of them yet.”
“What’s their next move going to be, then?”
Sherlock draws back a little to lie spread-eagled on the bed next to Wato, staring up at the ceiling. Wato holds herself up on her forearm to look at her.
"They'll go small, low-profile. The last thing they need now is to headline on the news. Maybe a collector, or a gallery. Small, so it won’t draw much attention when it gets robbed. Or an event, maybe. An under advertised one with pieces by newer, less established artists who don’t have the money for a lawsui-- Oh.” She sits bolt upright, frowning. “You don’t think..."
Wato sits up, too, slowly, as she catches Sherlock’s drift. “With our luck? Definitely.” She sighs. Never a quiet moment for the two of them. “I’ll call Reimon, then,” she says, reaching for her phone. “It can’t hurt, I guess.”
Sherlock collapses back onto the bed, burying her face in Wato’s side as she dials Reimon’s number. “Tell him to send us a real unit this time,” she mumbles into the fabric of Wato’s shirt.
(11:53) I dont know how the hell you know these things
(11:53) But 30 mins ago we caught 5 black circle thugs trying to break into that gallery you told us to monitor
(11:54) Night before their exhibit thing is supposed to open
(11:54) Just thought you might want to know
(11:57) sherlock’s magical intuition
(11:57) as usual
(11:58) thanks a lot shibata. we owe you one
(12:00) Other way around
(12:01) Youre sort of saving our lives on the black circle case
(12:01) Thanks to you and your weird girlfriend weve got our first real lead since irihata
(12:02) It’s been nearly 10 mins and she hasnt called me to gloat yet i’m starting to get worried
(12:02) it’s fine. she’s with me
(12:03) she’s otherwise occupied
(12:03) Tmi tmi
(12:06) But i’m happy for you. you know that right
(12:07) Like really really happy and proud that the two of you finally got your shit together
(12:07) Long time coming
(12:09) thanks, shibata. it means a lot
The gallery is relatively small, and strange , with its bizarre architecture and color scheme, but Wato likes it. The ceilings are low and oddly angled in some places, and the doorways cut into wide archways that force most people to stoop as they come in. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to how everything is arranged, sculptures placed next to paintings next to pencil sketches and engravings, but everything seems to belong exactly where it is, somehow. It seems like the kind of place meant for Itsuki.
Wato is surprised at the number of people who show up to the exhibit opening, and then feels bad for being surprised. It’s an odd crowd, made up mostly of university students with odd haircuts and clusters of older, more uncomfortable-looking people that Wato assumes are the artists’ parents.
There’s also a wine bar, which she feels like she should’ve anticipated.
She spots Hana at one point, her hair dyed a bright shade of coral and braided in a sort of updo. She grins when she notices Wato, and makes a peace sign at her from across the room. Wato returns it, a little bemused, but happy all the same.
They find Itsuki fairly easily. He’s standing near the front of the room, holding a half-empty glass of wine and talking to guests with the carefree excitement and openness that Wato has never actually seen him direct towards a stranger but always hoped that he would, if he just mustered up a little courage. A fierce pride for him wells up in her suddenly, for several different reasons. She catches his eye and smiles, expecting that to be the end of it, but he excuses himself from his conversation and comes over to talk to them.
“Wato! You came!” He pulls Wato into a one armed hug, before turning to face their other companion. “Hi, Sherlock. I’m glad you could make it.”
“Hello,” Sherlock says, raising an eyebrow in amusement. “I’m going to the wine bar, do you want anything?”
“Whatever you’re having,” Wato says.
“I think I’m covered,” Itsuki says, shaking his glass slightly so that the wine sloshes up the inside of the glass.
Sherlock quirks her lips in a crooked sort of smile, before leaving in search of the wine bar.
When she’s gone, Itsuki groans. “Oh, no, is she going to murder me? She’s going to murder me, isn’t she.”
Wato laughs, squeezing Itsuki’s hand where it rests on her shoulder. “I think she kind of likes you, actually.”
“You must have no concept of what the word ‘like’ means, then,” Itsuki says cheerfully. “Anyway! You’ll never believe what happened last night.” Wato tenses a little beneath Itsuki’s arm. “A bunch of people tried to break in to, like, rob the exhibit. I thought stuff like that only happened in movies. But! But apparently, the police had this place on a watchlist or something, so they caught all the almost-robbers and nothing actually happened. Crazy, right?”
Wato laughs weakly. “Crazy.”
“If I’d known living in Tokyo was gonna be like this, I would’ve moved here ages ago,” Itsuki whines. “Why didn’t anyone tell me about these things? Shouldn’t there be, like, an orientation or something?”
“There really should,” Wato says, sighing. She’s been living in the city for years, and it still always manages to surprise her.
Sherlock comes back with two glasses of something tinted a pale yellow, holding one out to Wato, who takes it.
“This room is filled with pretentious art students,” she says, her nose wrinkling slightly as she takes a sip of the wine.
Itsuki laughs. “You’re kind of describing my entire demographic. Or, well, pretentious art students and day drinkers, I guess.”
“You say that like there’s a difference,” Sherlock says, dry.
Itsuki laughs again, helplessly. “Wow! Okay, today has been weird. But, like, in a good way, I think.” He squeezes Wato’s shoulder one last time before releasing her. “Anyway, I’ll let you go do your own thing now. My stuff is kind of scattered here and there, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find. See you later!”
“The wine is sour,” Sherlock says, once Itsuki has disappeared into the cluster of people flocking the bar.
“Yes,” Wato says slowly. “That’s generally the case.”
“Not this sour.”
“Probably because it was made it with poor university kids in mind, not wine elitists like you,” Wato says, cuffing Sherlock’s elbow fondly. “Come on, you weirdo. Let’s find some art for you to be overly critical of.”
They manage to get lost a few times despite the size of the gallery, which is a little humiliating, but Sherlock holds her hand for most of it, once she abandons her wineglass on some poor waiter’s tray, and it’s nice. It’s really nice. Every once in a while, Wato can’t tamp down on the smile that makes its way onto her face, not really seeing the art in front of her at all in the face of so much warmth at the fact that Sherlock is holding her hand . That Wato can hold Sherlock’s hand so casually, now, whenever she wants. Sherlock looks at her strangely the first few times, but Wato can see the underlying fondness in it, and she knows. Sherlock gets it.
It is easy to pick out Itsuki’s work, strangely, even without looking at the small placards. There’s a little bit of him in all of his work that shines through in a way he doesn’t usually allow it to when he speaks. There’s an oil painting of the mountains in Gifu, rendered in a way that makes them almost dreamlike. A portrait of Mrs. Watanabe, done in rough, wide brushstrokes but still immediately recognizable. More abstract pieces made up of sharp, harsh lines broken by splotches of color and life, like being freed from a prison. Like gasping air after being underwater for too long. Like the light at the end of the tunnel.
There’s a certain unpolished quality to all of it, but it’s more charming than anything else, the way anyone can see the time and effort and pure emotion that must have gone into every movement of the brush against canvas.
She’s very grateful, suddenly, that they’d caught up to the Black Circle before they could take anything. She can’t -- she can’t imagine it, something so personal, something woven with threads of heart and soul, gone. Ripped away, just like that. And not just from Itsuki, but from so many others who’d probably had to claw their way up to recognition the same way he had. Their life’s work, taken and sold like an afterthought.
“You’ve been staring at the tinfoil sculpture for five minutes,” Sherlock says, which Wato knows is code for are you okay .
Wato turns her head to look at her, where she’s leaning against the wall. She wears a burgundy suit jacket, unbuttoned and hanging open around her waist, and pants cut of sharply at the ankle, where her legs are crossed, impeccably balanced as she always is in her stilettos. Lit with cheap display lights and surrounded with swaths of color, she -- well, she makes Wato’s mouth dry.
“I’m fine,” Wato says, smiling faintly. “Just happy that we came.”
Sherlock frowns. “I don’t understand the point of half of these. Especially this one,” she says poking the tip of the tinfoil sculpture. Wato swats her hand away after a perfunctory glance around the room to make sure no one who works at the gallery had seen -- or worse, the tinfoil sculptor themself. There were a lot of beautiful, creative, innovative pieces in the room, diamonds in the rough practically dripping with potential, but -- there were a couple things that fell flat, too.
“It’s… an absurdist take on the inherently self-destructive nature of society,” Wato says, reading the description on the placard. “Huh.”
“Had enough yet?”
“I think so,” Wato says, yawning. “Maybe we should go home.”
Sherlock wraps an arm around her waist, her hand fitting seamlessly into the curve of her ribs. “I thought you’d never ask.”
Sherlock holds her close as Wato settles on top of her, careful not to crush her. She kisses Sherlock softly, sweetly, until she feels Sherlock strain up against her, making a small, frustrated sound. Then, she kisses her hard , stroking the hair at Sherlock’s nape, and Sherlock melts against her.
She feels Sherlock tremble a little beneath her.
"Hey," Wato says, softly, pulling away to look at her. "Are you okay?"
"I've never --" Sherlock says before cutting herself off, frustrated, and biting her lip. "I don't really -- know how."
"It's okay," Wato says, a little breathless. "We'll figure it out."
Touching Sherlock, it turns out, is the most natural thing in the world. It comes to her easily, and she devotes herself to it for what could be hours, years. Sherlock is soft, scarred in some places. Wato falls in love with the feeling of Sherlock’s muscles shifting beneath her fingers, the way her breath catches when Wato takes her jacket off and kisses her neck, her stomach, her thighs. The way her hands clutch at the bedsheets helplessly, desperately. The way she says Wato’s name.
Sherlock looks up at her with raw adoration like she's something improbable and wonderful and, God, Wato loves her.
She loves that she's the one who gets to see Sherlock like this: unravelled, open and soft around the edges, just for her. Wato feels like she’s glowing, feels like her heart might burst from all of it. She feels lit up like a livewire when Sherlock trails her fingers down Wato’s ribs, soft and hesitant but endearingly eager as she fumbles with the buttons of Wato’s shirt. And then she just feels good.
She wakes up to sunlight wafting in from a window on the wrong side of the room, on bed sheets softer than she's used to. She wakes up to Sherlock, whose brow is furrowed even in her sleep and whose mussed hair is fanned out across the pillow, a little longer than she usually keeps it. She wakes up feeling more present, more grounded than she has in a while and thinks that maybe, maybe, things are looking up for once.
I want to thank you sooo much for reading this until the end!!
This is probably the longest thing I've ever written. I started probably over two months ago, and it was supposed to end at around 3,000 words, believe it or not hahaha.
I hope that you enjoyed reading this weird little story! Because I enjoyed writing it a lot, actually. I hope that it was interesting to read if nothing else, and at least a little emotionally compelling.
Please please leave a comment! Every single one means a lot and I'll probably end up crying over anything you say tbh!!
Once again, thank you so much for sticking around until the end of this and fueling my weird miss sherlock fever dream!
(also imagine sherlock in this and cry with me thanks)